MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Derrick Van Orden was leading the race for a western Wisconsin congressional seat early Wednesday, hoping to win a spot in the House less than two years after he was seen near the U.S. Capitol on the day insurrectionists breached the building.
Van Orden led Democratic state Sen. Brad Pfaff by about 4 percentage points with about 75% of the vote counted.
Van Orden is among a handful of people who were in Washington the day of the Jan. 6 insurrection and are now running for Congress. The former Navy SEAL has denied taking any part, but Pfaff argued to voters that his presence should be disqualifying.
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.
Incumbents in Wisconsin's other seven congressional districts were heavily favored to retain their seats.
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