Democrat challenges Rep. Van Orden in Wisconsin battleground as her party seeks to flip House
Jul 10, 2023, 7:21 AM | Updated: 11:14 am
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democrat Rebecca Cooke, a former small business owner and past member of the state’s economic development board, announced her run for Congress on Monday in a battleground western Wisconsin district Republicans flipped last time.
Cooke, 35, is running for a chance to take on first-term Rep. Derrick Van Orden, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump. Democrats are targeting the seat in their effort to regain control of the U.S. House in 2024.
“Our rural communities face unique challenges,” said Cooke, who was raised on a dairy farm, in a statement announcing her candidacy. “It’s clear that Washington isn’t working for us, and Derrick Van Orden is part of the problem.”
Cooke finished second in the 2022 primary to state Sen. Brad Pfaff who was then defeated by Van Orden. Pfaff, among other Democrats, also may try again for the seat, which Democrat Ron Kind held for more than 24 years before retiring in 2022. Pfaff beat Cooke by about 8 points last time.
National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Chris Gustafson branded Cooke as an “extreme” activist who was “trying her hand at losing a bid for office once again.”
Cooke, in an announcement video, said Van Orden was the extremist. She cited his support for the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, a decision that criminalized abortion in Wisconsin, and for his attendance at the Jan. 6, 2021, rally before the riot at the Capitol.
Cooke said she can win by targeting rural Democrats.
Cooke, who is from Eau Claire on the western edge of the district, is the first Democrat in Wisconsin to announce a congressional run for 2024. She has been traveling the district since last year in anticipation of another run.
Cooke would be the first woman to represent the 3rd Congressional District, which runs along Wisconsin’s border with Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois and includes the cities of Eau Claire, La Crosse and Stevens Point.
The district has been trending Republican, but Democrats hope its boundaries will be ordered redrawn after the Wisconsin Supreme Court flips to majority liberal control next month. A lawsuit challenging Republican-drawn lines for congressional and legislative districts is expected to be filed as soon as August.
Cooke owned Red’s Mercantile boutique for seven years before closing it after her primary loss in 2022. She also founded the Red Letter Grant in 2016, a nonprofit that supports female entrepreneurs, and previously served on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation Board, appointed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.