Republican Derrick Van Orden, who is running for Wisconsin's 3rd Congressional District seat, says "leftists" cannot be Christian. His opponent, former Democratic State Sen. Brad Pfaff, responded by saying Van Orden is "a religious bigot."
Van Orden's comments came from a presentation at a prayer breakfast in Sparta last weekend. A recording of the event was provided to media by the Pfaff campaign.
"There are many God-fearing Christians who are Democrats," said Van Orden. "There's not a single God-fearing Christian that is a leftist, because those two things are incompatible."
The comments were first reported by the La Crosse Tribune.
A spokesperson for Van Orden's campaign told Wisconsin Public Radio the "leftist" comments refer to a passage in the Communist Manifesto, which states, "...Communism abolishes eternal truths, it abolishes all religion, and all morality, instead constituting them on a new basis: it therefor acts in contradiction to all past historical experience."
In an interview with WPR, Pfaff said he doesn't buy the explanation from Van Orden's campaign and called the Republican "a religious bigot."
Sign up for daily news!
Stay informed with WPR's email newsletter.
"He (Van Orden) uses words like 'leftist' and 'Democrat' interchangeably. And then he has the audacity to start defining who's a Christian and who's not a Christian," said Pfaff. "Well, I take offense to that, and I take offense to that on behalf of at least 50 percent of the people who live in this district."
Pfaff called Van Orden "a religious bigot" and "an insurrectionist," referring to Van Orden's presence at the U.S. Capitol when supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the building on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to stop the certification of President Joe Biden's win.
In response, Van Orden's campaign sent a statement to WPR claiming the Democrat supports "big government socialist spending," open border policies and "the FBI labeling parents at school board meetings as 'domestic terrorists.'"
"Pfaff is the radical here and will say anything for personal political power," the statement said.
Only two polls have been conducted in the 3rd Congressional District Race. A poll funded by Pfaff's campaign in August showed him trailing Van Orden by 5 percentage points. Another August poll, funded by the Republican Congressional Leadership Fund political action committee, showed Van Orden ahead by 13 percentage points.
The seat was held for 26 years by former Democratic Congressman Ron Kind, who announced his retirement last year.