MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Former Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden defeated Democratic state Sen. Brad Pfaff in Tuesday's election to flip a Wisconsin congressional seat to Republicans, a boost to GOP designs on grabbing control of the House.
Van Orden's victory also lands him a spot in the House less than two years after he was nearby on the day that insurrectionists violently breached the U.S. Capitol. He acknowledged attending then-President Donald Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, but denied taking any part in the attack that followed.
Pfaff tried to persuade voters that Van Orden's presence in Washington should have been disqualifying. He had argued that Van Orden's presence in Washington should be disqualifying.
Van Orden said in a statement Wednesday morning that the race was largely about inflation crimping family budgets.
"I make a promise to you: I will be the hardest-working Congressman you have ever had in this district," Van Orden said. "I look forward to working with anyone who will put the Mission first, and the Mission is America."
Pfaff campaign spokesperson Kevin Winslow didn't immediately return a message Wednesday morning.
Van Orden and Pfaff were seeking a seat held by longtime Democratic Rep. Ron Kind before Kind, who narrowly defeated Van Orden in 2020, chose not to seek another term.
Van Orden vastly outraised Pfaff and had the advantage of running in a district along the state's western border that has been trending toward conservatives. But he had to defend himself against questions about his presence on or near the U.S. Capitol grounds during the insurrection, when rioters violently breached the building in an attempt to block certification of Joe Biden's presidential victory.
Van Orden said he was in Washington for political meetings when he attended then-President Donald Trump's rally outside the White House shortly before the Capitol attack. A Facebook photo from that day appears to show Van Orden posing with a small handful of protesters on the Capitol grounds, but Van Orden has said the suggestion he was within the restricted area is "inaccurate."
Pfaff, a state senator, and former cabinet secretary for Gov. Tony Evers, maintained Van Orden's presence near the Capitol that day shows he lacks the character and judgment to be an effective member of Congress.
He also criticized Van Orden for saying during a campaign stop in October that "leftists" can't be Christians. Van Orden called during the stop for a return to Judeo-Christian values that he said "this country was based on" and mentioned that he's a member of the Bible Baptist Church, which lists homosexuality alongside bestiality and incest as "sinful perversion." The church also preaches that women should be barred from leadership positions.
The 3rd District stretches from Menomonie south along the Mississippi River to Platteville. The district is mostly rural but includes the Democratic-leaning cities of Eau Claire and La Crosse.
Democrat Barack Obama won the district twice in his presidential races but the district has grown more conservative since then, mirroring a nationwide trend in rural areas. Trump carried the district in 2016 and 2020. Kind beat Van Orden by less than 3 points in 2020.