Wisconsin Public Radio

Democrat Will Challenge Rep. Van Orden

Eau Claire business owner Rebecca Cooke to run for 3rd District Congressional District that flipped Republican in 2022.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Jul 11th, 2023 12:33 pm
Eau Claire business leader Rebecca Cooke announced her second bid for Wisconsin's 3rd congressional district, becoming the first Democratic to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Cooke's campaign

Eau Claire business leader Rebecca Cooke announced her second bid for Wisconsin’s 3rd congressional district, becoming the first Democratic to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Cooke’s campaign

More than a year out from the 2024 election, Eau Claire business owner Rebecca Cooke is the first to launch her campaign for Wisconsin’s 3rd congressional district.

Cooke announced her candidacy on Monday. Identifying as an entrepreneur, Cooke runs a nonprofit supporting women entrepreneurs in western Wisconsin, operates an Airbnb business and said she currently waitresses at a local restaurant. She previously served on the board of directors for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

“I think we need more working class folks like myself in D.C. to represent the interests of us all,” she said. “I really feel like Washington has left us behind, and it’s ran by insiders and elites on both sides of the aisle. And we need someone with fresh perspectives and real world experiences to fight for us in D.C.”

This is Cooke’s second bid for the competitive western Wisconsin seat after losing the 2022 primary election to state Sen. Brad Pfaff, D-Onalaska, by almost 8 percentage points. Pfaff ultimately lost the race to now U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Prairie du Chien.

Cooke said she is a starkly different candidate from Van Orden, pointing to her support for reproductive health freedom and her upbringing on a dairy farm in the district. She said she thinks these differences will be strengths in the upcoming election, as well as the support she was able to gain last year from labor unions and farmers.

Cooke said she wanted to launch her campaign early in the election cycle in order to build the momentum and financial support needed to succeed in a geographically-large district.

“To get my message out, we’re going to need the resources to win, and that is something that stakeholders look at as a show of strength and a show of viability,” she said.

Anthony Chergosky, assistant professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, said Cooke’s clear second place finish in last year’s primary puts her in a strong position for next year’s race.

“By and large, the perception about Rebecca Cooke in the Democratic primary was that she overperformed expectations,” he said. “That is going to attract a lot of attention from party insiders, from activists, from donors and everyone else who is involved in campaigns.”

He said Cooke was considered a political newcomer in last year’s primary, putting her at a disadvantage to Pfaff who had a more recognized name in the district. But Chergosky said one strength of Cooke’s campaign was the way she embraced the district’s rural identity.

“That’s a piece that a lot of Wisconsin Democrats have been struggling with, just trying to establish that authentic connection with rural residents and farmers and other individuals in small towns,” he said. “I find her really interesting for that reason, because I think she really, in her rhetoric and in her campaigning, tries to establish that level of trust and that level of authenticity.”

But Chergosky said one of the biggest factors likely to be on Democratic voters’ minds is whether Cooke or any other candidate is able to unseat Van Orden. He said Van Orden is a strong fundraiser who received a large amount of national support in 2022, meaning Democrats will face an uphill battle to stay competitive.

“It’s very likely that he will have a spending advantage again,” Chergosky said. “We know that incumbents can raise a lot of money, especially compared to challengers, so it makes sense that Democrats would want to get an early start given the challenges and opportunities that they have in this campaign.”

He said part of the resource disparity came from a lack of financial support from national Democratic groups. After last year’s election was decided by less than 4 percent of votes, Chergosky said there will be more pressure on the Democratic Party to spend more in 2024 in what could still be a competitive district.

Chergosky said it’s unclear if the 2024 primary will be a rematch for Democrats who ran last year. He said Pfaff appears to be keeping his political options open for 2024 and hasn’t committed to another run in the 3rd congressional district. Pfaff’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that retired CIA officer Deb McGrath has also floated a second run for the seat and WEDC CEO Missy Hughes may get into the race for the 2024 election.

Van Orden’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Cooke’s candidacy. A spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee called Cooke an “extreme Democratic activist,” saying she is “trying her hand at losing a bid for office once again.”

Listen to the WPR report here.

Kicking off 2024 congressional race in western Wisconsin, Eau Claire Democrat announces campaign was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

One thought on “Democrat Will Challenge Rep. Van Orden”

  1. Mary says:

    “…there were at least two incoming freshmen, Republican freshmen, that were at the Stop the Steal rally on January 6. That’s Wisconsin’s Van Orden and New York’s George Santos.” Laura Barrón-López:


    DCCC re: Van Orden: https://dccc.org/derrick-van-orden-desperate-to-scrub-his-extreme-out-of-touch-anti-choice-record/

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