Pfaff and McGrath Decide Against New Run for Congress, Sets Up More United Democratic Front to Challenge Van Orden

3rd CD WI Pfaff McGrath Out (1280 × 720 px)

By Pat Kreitlow

August 30, 2023

Pfaff emerged from last year’s four-way primary, only to lose narrowly in a district held by Democrat Ron Kind for 26 years. Van Orden faces criticism for a late-night Capitol tirade against pages.

At least two of the four Democrats who ran in last year’s 3rd Congressional District primary say they will not take another run at the seat, now held by Republican Derrick Van Orden.

State Sen. Brad Pfaff announced Wednesday his intention to run for reelection to his La Crosse-area district. Pfaff won last year’s Democratic primary but lost to Van Orden in November. Had Pfaff chosen to run for Congress it would have left his seat in the Legislature open as a possible Republican pick-up.

Former CIA officer Deb McGrath of Menomonie cited “personal reasons” in telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel she would not run again, according to its story on Wednesday.

The news means only one of last year’s candidate’s—Eau Claire small business owner Rebecca Cooke—has formally announced a 2024 campaign. While Cooke finished second in the primary, she also won a majority of the counties in the 3rd District, which includes much of southwest and central Wisconsin—including La Crosse, Eau Claire, Stevens Point, and Wisconsin Rapids.

Potential Democratic candidates include state Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point), former La Crosse County Board chair Tara Johnson, and Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. CEO Missy Hughes. A law student from Milwaukee has also announced his intention to run, though he does not appear to have any connection to the district.

Democrat Ron Kind held the seat for 26 years until his retirement.

New Incumbent Has Issues

Van Orden’s brief tenure has been most notable for a post-midnight incident last month in the US Capitol rotunda, where he screamed obscenities at a group of high school-age students serving as pages in the US Senate. As is tradition, the pages—during a break in the Senate duties—were lying on the floor of the rotunda, taking pictures of the interior of the dome. A transcript of Van Orden’s tirade was written by one of the pages and published in The Hill:

“Wake the f‑‑‑ up you little s‑‑‑‑. … What the f‑‑‑ are you all doing? Get the f‑‑‑ out of here. You are defiling the space you [pieces of s‑‑‑],” Van Orden said, according to the article. 

When the young volunteers identified themselves as Senate pages, Van Orden reportedly responded. “I don’t give a f‑‑‑ who you are, get out.”

Both Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress criticized Van Orden afterward.

A photo circulated the next day showed several empty bottles of alcohol in Van Orden’s office where a witness reported hearing people “partying loudly.” A spokesperson said Van Orden “regularly hosts beer and cheese tours with constituents” and “hosted roughly 50 constituents and visitors [that day] before a private tour of the Capitol.“

It wasn’t the first time Van Orden had caused a public scene with pages of that age. In 2021, Van Orden berated a 17-year-old page at a public library in Prairie du Chien and angrily denounced a display of books with an LGBTQ theme. 

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


  • 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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