Third Democrat launches bid for western Wisconsin swing congressional district

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A third Democratic candidate has announced that she's running for a western Wisconsin congressional seat held by freshman Republican Rep. Derrick Van Orden in one of the presidential battleground state's swing districts.

Former La Crosse County Board Chair Tara Johnson on Wednesday joined former small-business owner Rebecca Cooke, who ran for the seat and lost last year in the primary, and Aaron Nytes, a Harvard Law School student, in seeking to represent the Republican-leaning 3rd Congressional District, which is comprised of parts of central, southwestern and western Wisconsin, including moderate exurbs of Minnesota’s Twin Cities.

Johnson, 61, said she was running to fight for working families, rural communities, abortion rights, affordable health care and prescription drugs, and protecting Social Security and Medicare. She spent 20 years on the La Crosse County Board before stepping down in 2020.

In an statement, Johnson said Van Orden, who flipped the seat for the GOP last year, has “embarrassed us with his temper tantrums, joining insurrections at the Capitol on January 6th, and voting again and again against real solutions that would cut costs and make life better for people in every corner of this district.”

Van Orden was admonished in July by fellow Republicans and Democrats, who called on him to apologize after he yelled vulgarities at high school-aged Senate pages who were lying on the floor of the Capitol Rotunda taking pictures. A former Navy SEAL, Van Orden was outside of the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, before he was elected to Congress.

Van Orden did not respond to a message seeking comment on Johnson's comments or candidacy. But Will Reinert, a spokesperson for the National Republican Campaign Committee, branded Johnson as an “extreme Democrat” who would be “just another rubber stamp for Joe Biden and his inflationary agenda.”

“Meanwhile, Rep. Derrick Van Orden is working hard to lower inflation, protect our border and decrease gas prices,” Reinert said.

Johnson's decision to run comes after state Sen. Brad Pfaff, who lost to Van Orden by 4 percentage points in November, decided not to challenge him again. Former CIA officer Deb McGrath, who also ran in 2022, said she would not run again. McGrath endorsed Johnson on Wednesday.