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State Rep. Katrina Shankland joins race to unseat GOP Rep. Derrick Van Orden

The central Wisconsin Democrat says she is uniquely suited to win in Wisconsin's most competitive congressional district

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, announces her candidacy for the 3rd Congressional District
Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, announces her candidacy for the 3rd Congressional District, Oct. 3, 2023. Rob Mentzer/WPR

A longtime Assembly representative from central Wisconsin is entering the race for Congress in Wisconsin’s most competitive district.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, announced Tuesday in Stevens Point that she would run in the 3rd Congressional District. Calling herself “battle-tested” and boasting of her record of bipartisan accomplishment in the state Legislature, Shankland criticized the district’s GOP Rep. Derrick Van Orden’s anti-abortion position and his demeanor, saying he has failed to make progress for Wisconsin in Congress.

Shankland joins a growing field of Democrats seeking to challenge Van Orden, who won office in 2022, flipping a Congressional seat that had been held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Kind for nearly 25 years. She is hoping her decade-plus of experience in the Assembly will differentiate her from other Democratic candidates.

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“We need a candidate who is battle tested, who has a proven track record of not only winning elections but outperforming the top of the ticket in those elections,” Shankland told reporters. “In my last few campaigns, I’ve had people of all political ideologies endorsing me, because I’m known for working across the aisle to deliver results.”

Shankland was first elected in 2012. Stevens Point has historically been a Democratic stronghold, and she did not have a Republican opponent in her first three re-elections. But as rural Wisconsin has become increasingly Republican, the district has become more competitive, and she faced Republican challengers in 2020 and 2022.

In the 3rd Congressional District, the 2022 contest between Van Orden and Democratic state Sen. Brad Pfaff had an unexpectedly close finish after national Democratic groups pulled spending on ads in the district, seemingly writing off the district. Van Orden received 51.9 percent of the vote to Pfaff’s 48.1 percent.

Van Orden, a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump who attended the president’s “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021, is seen as vulnerable in 2024. Van Orden has said he left the rally when it turned into an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

In July, Van Orden attracted controversy after he reportedly shouted and cursed at teenage congressional pages who were lying on the floor of the Capitol to take pictures of the rotunda.

The first Democratic candidate in the district to announce was Rebecca Cooke, an entrepreneur from Eau Claire who sought the Democratic nomination in 2022. Also running is former La Crosse County Board chair Tara Johnson and Aaron Nytes, a Harvard Law student who does not live in the district.

In a statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a spokesperson from the National Republican Congressional Committee said the primary would be a “chaotic race to the left” and predicted the Democrats’ “eventual nominee will limp out of this primary bruised and broken.”

Cooke, who entered the race in July, sent a press release Tuesday morning announcing she had raised $400,000 in her first three months as a candidate.