Lack of debate casts shadow over Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District race

Derrick Van Orden declines traditional candidate debate joining nationwide trend

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – In a troubling pattern, Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional voters won’t hear from their candidates on a debate stage. People will have to learn about them on their own. One candidate for Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District chose to stay silent.

Tis the season for political advertising. That familiar cadence echoes over the airwaves. Election attack ads inundate people’s lives.

“You know it’s kind of interesting,” said Brad Pfaff, 3rd Congressional Democratic candidate, laughing when asked about one ad that uses his last name like an expletive.

People have to take each ad with a grain of salt.

“They pronounced my name right,” Pfaff said. “Give them credit for that.”

Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District became an open seat after Ron Kind called it a career after 25 years.

“What’s going on in Washington makes a big difference,” said Joe Heim, a La Crosse political analyst and former political science professor at UW-La Crosse.

Candidates normally take their platform to a professional environment where journalists ask real questions so voters get authentic answers from the people who might represent them. However, one of these candidates will not debate.

“Yeah, it’s too bad,” Heim said.

Republican candidate Derrick Van Orden declined Democrat Brad Pfaff’s challenge to a debate.

“Candidates don’t always want everybody to know exactly where they stand on issues,” Heim said.

Van Orden also turned down a candidate interview with LeaderEthics Wisconsin.

“Four or five times they tried to contact Van Orden,” Heim said. “Never got a response.”

Heim would know. He serves on the board. Van Orden’s sizable lead in likely voter polls could explain Van Orden’s silence.

“If your candidate is well ahead, why gamble and do a debate?” Heim said.

Nationwide — candidates of both parties are pulling away from the traditional debate platform. Republican Kari Lake running for governor in Arizona is blasting her democratic opponent for doing the same.

“I would love it if she would show up because I think there’s a lot of important issues that the people of Arizona need to hear about,” Lake told CBS News’s Face the Nation.

In this year’s top five senate races—there’s been only six debates —compared to *seventeen in 2010. However, Van Orden’s social media offers plenty of words. Van Orden holds town hall events where his supporters ask questions.

“They may not ask the right questions to be blunt,” Heim said.

This leaves out other issues. Heim said he would like to hear candidates argue themselves. Like Van Orden’s presence in Washington D.C. during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

“Yes. You’d like to hear it from the person’s mouth directly how they explain it,” Heim said.

Heim would like to know more about Pfaff’s life.

“I’d like to know his background more before he entered politics,” Heim said.

Just like a job interview.

“They had to share kind of a vision of how they see themselves in the role that they’re applying for,” Pfaff said.

Voters will have to rely on their own knowledge.

“They’re the losers. That’s the sad part of it,” Heim said. “We don’t know enough about the candidates without having things like debates.”

Heim asked how can voters trust their representation in Washington when half of their neighbors’ questions are ignored.

“You are not a dictator,” Heim said. “You’re one of 535 people. I think debates provide a service for people.”

Van Orden’s campaign has said it would agree to a town hall debate, but nothing has been organized. We contacted Van Orden’s campaign for this story. They did not respond to News 8 Now’s request for an interview.

Since there will not be a debate here is information on both candidates for voters leading up to Nov. 8. 

3rd congressional

  • is the recommended resource by La Crosse area elections leaders