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Derrick Van Orden defeats Brad Pfaff in nationally watched congressional swing district

The Associated Press calls the race shortly before 10:30 AM Wednesday

Van Orden raises fists as he enthusiastically speaks to the crowd of Trump supporters
Derrick Van Orden, a Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, speaks to supporters of President Donald Trump on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, before a rally at the LaCrosse Fairgrounds Speedway in West Salem. Angela Major/WPR

Republican Derrick Van Orden has won in a nationally watched congressional swing district in Wisconsin.

The mostly rural district, encompassing southwestern and parts of central Wisconsin, was a key part of the national GOP’s push to retake control of the U.S. House of Representatives. That national push was still uncertain as of 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, when The Associated Press called the race for Van Orden.

With about 94 percent of votes tallied, Van Orden, a former Navy SEAL, had 52 percent of the vote. Pfaff, a state senator and former agriculture department head, had 48 percent. Most of the outstanding precincts were likely favorable to Republicans.

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In a statement, Van Orden said “it is time to get on with the people’s work.”

The district was held by Democratic Rep. Ron Kind for more than 25 years, but in recent years trended toward Republicans. Former President Donald Trump won the district in 2020 even as Kind narrowly won reelection. Kind announced he would retire from Congress early this year.

A Republican victory was widely predicted by national political forecasters, but the margin as votes came in was smaller than most expected. National Democratic Party groups had spent little on the race, while the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee supported Van Orden with TV ads and campaign donations. The closer-than-predicted outcome came as Democrats out-performed polling across Wisconsin, including in key statewide races for governor and U.S. senator.

Democrats attacked Van Orden for his attendance at the protest of 2020 election results on Jan. 6, 2021, that became the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. He was one of a handful of Republican candidates nationally who attended the “Stop the Steal” rally. Van Orden has written that he left the Capitol grounds when he saw “that a protest had become a mob.”

His victory, the last of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts to be called, gives Republicans a 6-2 majority in the state’s congressional delegation.

District 1

Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, won reelection with 54.9 percent of the vote. His Democratic opponent, Janesville small business over Ann Roe, got 44.4 percent. Steil, a former staffer for former Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, was first elected in 2018. The southeastern Wisconsin district includes Janesville, Racine, Kenosha and parts of suburban Milwaukee.

District 2

Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, won his south central Wisconsin district for the sixth time, receiving 71 percent of the vote. His opponent, Republican Erik Olsen, received 26.9 percent. The district includes Dane County and is one of the state’s Democratic strongholds.

District 3

Republican Derrick Van Orden led Democrat Brad Pfaff, 52 percent to 48 percent.

District 4

Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, has represented the district since her election in 2004, and easily won reelection in the heavily Democratic district. Moore received 75.4 percent of the vote; her Republican challenger, Tim Rogers, received 22.6 percent. The district covers Milwaukee and its north-shore suburbs.

District 5

Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, won reelection in the heavily Republican district. Fitzgerald, a former state Senate Majority Leader, defeated Democratic challenger Mike Van Someren 64.4 percent to 35.6 percent. Fitzgerald first won a seat in Congress in 2020 following the retirement of longtime Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. The southeastern Wisconsin district covers Waukesha and other Milwaukee suburbs as well as Whitewater and Watertown.

District 6

Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, ran unopposed in the heavily Republican district, which includes Sheboygan and Fond du Lac as well as parts of central Wisconsin. Grothman, a longtime state legislator, was first elected to Congress in 2014.

District 7

Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, won reelection in the heavily Republican northern Wisconsin district. Tiffany received 61.9 percent of the vote; his Democratic challenger, publisher Dick Ausman, received 38.1 percent. The mostly rural district includes Wausau and all of northwestern Wisconsin. Tiffany, a longtime state legislator, was first elected to Congress in a special election in May 2020 following the resignation of GOP Rep. Sean Duffy.

District 8

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Green Bay, ran unopposed by a Democrat in the northeast Wisconsin district, which includes Green Bay, Appleton and Marinette. He took 73.5 percent of the vote.