Van Orden defeats Pfaff to flip Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District seat to Republican

In a boost to Republican designs on taking control of the U.S. House, that party's candidate Derrick Van Orden defeated Democratic candidate Brad Pfaff in a western Wisconsin congressional district.

Associated Press

November 9, 2022 • West Central Region

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Derrick Van Orden stands behind a podium with a graphic reading Save America and speaks into a microphone while facing teleprompters, with an audience of people in the background, many wearing t-shirts for Tim Michels.

The Republican candidate for Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District, Derrick Van Orden, defeated Democratic candidate Brad Pfaff in the Nov. 8, 2022 election. In this photo, Van Orden speaks to a crowd at a Republican campaign rally in Waukesha on Aug. 5. (Credit: PBS Wisconsin)

By Todd Richmond, Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Former Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden defeated Democratic state Sen. Brad Pfaff in Tuesday’s election to flip a Wisconsin congressional seat to Republicans, a boost to GOP designs on grabbing control of the House.

Van Orden’s victory also lands him a spot in the House less than two years after he was nearby on the day that insurrectionists violently breached the U.S. Capitol. He acknowledged attending then-President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, but denied taking any part in the attack that followed.

Pfaff tried to persuade voters that Van Orden’s presence in Washington should have been disqualifying. He had argued that Van Orden’s presence in Washington should be disqualifying.

Van Orden said in a statement Wednesday morning that the race was largely about inflation crimping family budgets.

“I make a promise to you: I will be the hardest-working Congressman you have ever had in this district,” Van Orden said. “I look forward to working with anyone who will put the Mission first, and the Mission is America.”

Pfaff said in a statement Wednesday that it was clear early in the campaign that he was facing an uphill fight.

“We left it all on the field, and I am so proud of the race that we ran,” he said. “Whether it’s as your state senator, or a born-and-raised member of this community, you can be damn sure that despite this outcome, I’ll never stop being a voice and a fighter for you and your family.”

Van Orden and Pfaff were seeking a seat held by longtime Democratic Rep. Ron Kind before Kind, who narrowly defeated Van Orden in 2020, chose not to seek another term.

Van Orden vastly outraised Pfaff and had the advantage of running in a district along the state’s western border that has been trending toward conservatives. But he had to defend himself against questions about his presence on or near the U.S. Capitol grounds during the insurrection, when rioters violently breached the building in an attempt to block certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory.

Van Orden said he was in Washington for political meetings when he attended then-President Donald Trump’s rally outside the White House shortly before the Capitol attack. A Facebook photo from that day appears to show Van Orden posing with a small handful of protesters on the Capitol grounds, but Van Orden has said the suggestion he was within the restricted area is “inaccurate.”

Pfaff, a state senator and former cabinet secretary for Gov. Tony Evers, maintained Van Orden’s presence near the Capitol that day shows he lacks the character and judgment to be an effective member of Congress.

He also criticized Van Orden for saying during a campaign stop in October that “leftists” can’t be Christians. Van Orden called during the stop for a return to Judeo-Christian values that he said “this country was based on” and mentioned that he’s a member of the Bible Baptist Church, which lists homosexuality alongside bestiality and incest as “sinful perversion.” The church also preaches that women should be barred from leadership positions.

The 3rd District stretches from Menomonie south along the Mississippi River to Platteville. The district is mostly rural but includes the Democratic-leaning cities of Eau Claire and La Crosse.

Democrat Barack Obama won the district twice in his presidential races but the district has grown more conservative since then, mirroring a nationwide trend in rural areas. Trump carried the district in 2016 and 2020. Kind beat Van Orden by less than 3 points in 2020.

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