WASHINGTON — Democrats are looking to add two 2024 Wisconsin U.S. House races to its list of more than 30 districts “in play.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is zeroing in on Wisconsin’s 1st and 3rd Congressional District’s seats because it believes the two Republican incumbents will be vulnerable next year.

What You Need To Know

  • This week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced its intent to flip the U.S. House seats currently held by Republican Reps. Bryan Steil, in Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District, and Derrick Van Orden, a freshman lawmaker in the 3rd Congressional District

  • Even though Steil decisively won re-election in 2022, the possibility that Wisconsin's congressional District lines might be redrawn could make his district more competitive is an appealing challenge to Democrats

  • Van Orden narrowly beat Democrat Brad Pfaff by less than five points for the seat, a surprisingly close race that's giving Democrats hope to try again in 2024

Even though Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville, handily secured his third term by nearly 10 points over challenger Ann Roe last year, the DCCC is targeting his presumed 2024 reelection bid because of the possibility that Wisconsin’s congressional district lines might be redrawn to make his district more competitive.

The DCCC announced this week it is launching a messaging blitz to voters; they’re trying to align Steil with far-right figures in the GOP in an effort to peel independent voters away from him.

“Derrick Van Orden and Bryan Steil are extremists who have enabled the out-of-touch priorities that House Republicans are pushing today — from MAGA-led political investigations to floating cuts to Social Security and Medicare, to passing legislation that would protect wealthy tax cheats at the expense of everyday Wisconsinites,” DCCC spokesperson Tommy Garcia said in a news release. 

“They are building the case against themselves for 2024, and the DCCC will hold them accountable,” he added. 

Marquette Law School Poll Director Charles Franklin said he believes Democrats still face the hurdle of finding a credible challenger in the district, which stretches from Racine to Janesville in southeast Wisconsin.

“The challenge is the district has been pretty Republican, and so finding the reservoir of strong Democratic candidates in a district that’s largely Republican is a challenge,” said Franklin. 

“Now, though, recognizing that the district may be competitive, perhaps it will be attractive to a strong candidate who gets into the race fairly early and can really do the advanced setup. I think, in this past year, the 1st District just came on people’s radars too late for it to make any difference in candidate recruitment,” he continued. 

Freshman Republican lawmaker Van Orden’s win was a different story. He narrowly beat Democrat Brad Pfaff by less than five points for the seat vacated by longtime Democratic incumbent Ron Kind. 

Pfaff told Spectrum News after the election that the little investment from national Democrats disheartened him. 

“I do want to hear more from the national Democrats, though. Is there a real interest in a seat like this? Will they be supportive? Because, you know, they weren’t. There was not the level of support that there should have been. It was a missed opportunity,” Pfaff told Spectrum News.

Van Orden significantly out-raised Pfaff by millions of dollars and, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings, the National Republican Congressional Campaign (NRCC) outspent the DCCC on the race as well. The NRCC spent more than $365,000 on Van Orden while the DCCC put $75,000 into Pfaff’s campaign. The latter spent a total of the nearly $308 million on races in the 2022 midterms.

Rural voters make up a significant portion of Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District. It’s a voting bloc that Democrats have struggled to reach in state, local and federal elections. But the party now believes that if they spend more in this district, they have a strong chance of winning it.

“Hindsight says, ‘Oh, my goodness, this was a missed opportunity for the DCCC.’ The caveat to that is the district has been moving Republican; it voted for Donald Trump twice by narrow margins. And so before the election, you might be forgiven for thinking that would be a more challenging district. Now post-election though, you see, maybe this really was a missed opportunity,” Franklin told Spectrum News.

This push comes a week after the DCCC announced it would also be working to defend nearly 30 very competitive House seats currently held by Democrats.