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In Wisconsin’s Driftless region, an impending political battle that could help decide control of the U.S. House

MADISON, Wis. — As newly-elected Democratic state senator and longtime former Kind aide Brad Pfaff announced his run Monday for Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, the race is taking shape as one of the biggest political battles to help decide House control in 2022.

Longtime Democratic congressman Ron Kind announced his retirement earlier this year after more than 25 years representing an increasingly Republican region.

Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional district is the swingiest in the state, and one of seven Congressional districts (all located in the Midwest or New England) that voted for both former President Trump and a Democrat congressperson in 2020’s general election. Trump carried it in both 2016 and 2020, but President Barack Obama won it in 2012.

With redistricting set to reshape Wisconsin’s local, state and federal battlegrounds after the 2020 U.S. Census, the anticipated redistricting battle that could well land in the courts could be one of the biggest factors in the 3rd Congressional race next fall.

“It doesn’t take very much change to the district to really push it over the edge for either the Republicans or the Democrats, its very close to a 50/50 district now,” UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden explained. “It’s really just the addition and subtraction of a small number of communities that can shift the district enough to make it safer for one of the parties.”

Map options released by Gov. Evers’ People’s Map Commission last week provide three alternatives for a new Congressional map in Wisconsin, with two out of the three variations for the 3rd Congressional District giving Democrats a slight advantage when based on the 2018 gubernatorial election results. But none of them would eliminate the delicate political balance of the region, which has drifted more Republican in recent years but maintains Democratic strongholds in Eau Claire and La Crosse.

Retiring Rep. Kind won the district by fewer than 3 points in a narrow win over Republican challenger Derrick Van Orden last fall, the same challenger that Pfaff will likely face should he win the Democratic primary.

This time around, results could lean toward Republicans in the district, Burden said.

“There are two factors that are working against the Democrats next year. The number one is that Ron Kind won’t be on the ballot; he was a familiar face and the kind of Democrat that was acceptable to a lot of more conservative rural voters,” Prof. Burden explained.

The other factor is that “Typically, the president’s party will lose seats. There’s really no margin for Democrats to lose any votes in this district and still hold the seat.”

Pfaff’s campaign ad released Monday morning featured fewer political buzzwords and D.C. politics, opting instead to hone in on issues closer to home.

“I’m running to fix the problems people actually face,” he says in the video. “Like finding a good-paying job; health care costs.”

Pfaff, who also briefly served as the secretary-designee for Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, will likely face off with Van Orden.

The retired U.S. Navy Seal who was endorsed by Trump in 2020 has denied that he passed through police barricades during the January 6 insurrection, when he attended the Trump rally that day.

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