Rebecca Cooke Becomes First Democrat Seeking to Challenge GOP Rep. Derrick Van Orden

Cooke 3rd CD Map

Congressional candidate Rebecca Cooke of Eau Claire (Contributed photo/Staff graphic)

By Pat Kreitlow
July 10, 2023

The small business owner won the majority of counties in last year’s primary. Three other Democrats are said to be considering a challenge to the freshman Republican who was on the US Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, 2021.

Rebecca Cooke, a small business owner from the Chippewa Valley, announced Monday her second campaign for Congress in Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District. She is the first Democrat to officially seek a challenge to first-term Congressman Derrick Van Orden. 

While Cooke fell short in last year’s Democratic primary to state Sen. Brad Pfaff, this year she’s touting strong support from voters, evidenced by winning a majority of the 3rd District’s counties in 2022, even with four candidates on the ballot.

“Our rural communities face unique challenges. It’s clear that Washington isn’t working for us, and Derrick Van Orden is part of the problem,” Cooke said. “Families are struggling to get by and deserve a champion who knows what it’s like to make ends meet and actually shows up for neighbors in need.”

Cooke said she brings to the campaign experience running her small business, leading a non-profit that helps female entrepreneurs, and serving the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Cooke grew up on a dairy farm near Eau Claire.

In Nov. 2022, Pfaff won the primary with 39% of the vote, defeating Cooke (31%), former CIA officer Deb McGrath (19%), and physician Mark Neumann (11%). Cooke won the most votes in 11 of the district’s 19 counties. Pfaff then lost to Van Orden by a 52-48 margin, flipping a district that had been held by Democrat Ron Kind for 26 years. The narrow margin led to a firestorm of criticism from Wisconsin Democrats who claimed national campaigns conceded the seat and pulled resources too soon, handing the race to someone who could be defeated by a strong challenge. 

“From his dangerous attacks on reproductive healthcare to his attempt to overthrow the government, extremist Republican Derrick Van Orden is among the most vulnerable incumbents in the country,” Cooke said. 

Van Orden shared videos of himself marching to the US Capitol prior to the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. While Van Orden insists he did nothing wrong, photographic evidence shows he was beyond police boundaries and on the Capitol grounds that day.

Pfaff is said to be weighing another congressional bid, but the 2024 campaign coincides with the end of his four-year term in the Legislature, so he would have to leave the La Crosse area with an open Senate seat coveted by Republicans. McGrath told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week that she has “started to strongly consider” running again—in a story that also included a report that Missy Hughes, chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, is also contemplating a run at the seat.


  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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