Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional grabs national attention ahead of Tuesday’s primary

Experts say Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional 'very competitive' after Rep. Ron Kind leaves seat open

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional district is the number one U.S. House district likely to flip according to the National Journal. Rep. Ron Kind is retiring after holding the seat for more than 20 years.

A person can figure out where politicians stand based on the letter written next to their names on a ballot. But voters in Western Wisconsin are not as predictable. Political analyst Joe Heim said to expect high stakes in Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional district race.

“It’s pretty clear. That is the number one race in Wisconsin,” Heim said.

Incumbent Ron Kind has held the seat since 1997. The same year Titanic hit theaters and Brett Favre won a Super Bowl, but now with his retirement — Kind’s decision leaves Derrick Van Orden who lost slightly in 2020 with another shot.

“If you add all the district votes for president, Donald Trump carried the district,” Heim said. ‘The reason Ron Kind got reelected was some people voted for Trump and then switched over to vote for him.”

The 3rd Congressional attracted Trump’s coveted endorsement in 2020. “The Trump endorsement in this kind of an area, especially with rural voters, means a bigger thing,” Heim said.

Van Orden carries his own baggage. He was at the Jan. 6 insurrectionand in a 2015 book, he bragged about exposing a male lieutenant’s genitals to female officers.  “Those kinda things are gonna be used against him,” Heim said.

Van Orden can relax in the August primary because he’s unopposed. Four Democrats can’t rest on the Democratic side. Brad Pfaff currently serves Western Wisconsin in the state senate. Mark Neumann is a well-known La Crosse doctor and City Council member. Deb McGrath is a former Army captain and CIA officer. Rebecca Cooke is an Eau Claire small business owner and nonprofit leader.

Pfaff holds a slight edge, but a win Tuesday is no guarantee.  “He’s not been very widely known as a person. He doesn’t have a lot of exposure,” Heim said.

However, Pfaff has an important ally. “Congressman Kind came out very early to endorse him,” Heim said.

Pfaff beat a household name in Dan Kapanke who held that Senate seat from 2004-2011. But there’s a math problem Heim said doesn’t add up.
“He out spent Dan Kapanke four to one,” Heim said. “He won by 600 votes.”

Ultimately — Western Wisconsin voters may help decide which party controls the House in 2023. “The stakes are really high here,” Heim said.

Heim said three things will have an impact on this election. Money – this seat is so important it will attract a lot of campaign and outside money. Women voters — due to the reversal of Roe v. Wade. And the college vote – with the eight major colleges and universities in the district.

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