The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) released its initial Districts In Play for the 2024 election cycle on Monday, including Wisconsin’s first and third districts, currently held by Republican U.S. Reps. Bryan Steil and Derrick Van Orden. The targeted districts are slated to play a large part in the 2024 House election — where Republicans are expected to fight to maintain control of their 222-213 majority — requiring 218 for the majority.
Wisconsin’s first Congressional District, home to Kenosha and Racine, has been a Republican stronghold for decades. Former Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan held the seat for 20 years, until Bryan Steil — a former Ryan staffer — won the seat in 2018 after Ryan’s retirement. Steil's win in 2020 was with 59.3% of the vote, but in 2022, his victory margin narrowed to 54.1%.
Judge Janet Protasiewicz's win in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race Tuesday gives liberals their first majority on the state's highest court in 15 years. Protasiewicz said she would “enjoy taking a fresh look” at the Wisconsin state maps, which have been deemed one of the most gerrymandered in the country — significantly favoring Republicans.
Democrats are optimistic that with Protasiewicz's new liberal majority, they can redraw Wisconsin maps in their favor — potentially by including more of Democratic stronghold Milwaukee in Steil's district.
Wisconsin’s third Congressional District, home to Eau Claire and La Crosse, is represented by Republican Derrick Van Orden, who won over Democratic candidate Brad Pfaff in the 2022 midterms with 52% of the vote. The seat was open after Democrat Ron Kind retired, having held the seat since 1997.
Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL, faces concerns over his presence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The seat presents a pickup opportunity for Democrats, who feel they missed out on the chance to win the seat in 2022 following the national party decision to withdraw more than $1.5 million in ad purchases that were meant to support Pfaff during the last weeks of the campaign.
“It should’ve been a target district last cycle when we had a strong candidate fighting to hold the seat as opposed to now facing an incumbent, as weak as he is, to flip the district, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said Josefine Jaynes, former chair of the third Congressional District Democratic Party and Rural Organizing Director of the Pfaff campaign. “The DCCC still has more work to do to demonstrate that they’re really committed to invest and spend money in WI-03.”
Protasiewicz's win also brings more national attention to Wisconsin, where redistricting could increase the competitiveness of these two seats.
“Looking at all the money that poured into this race, you can see we were outspent five to one. I think there was a failure by those outside of Wisconsin to recognize the importance of this race and the danger of electing Derrick Van Orden to Congress,” explained Jaynes. “Don’t count us out. Invest in our candidates and trust their strategy.”
With the potential to flip these districts, Democrats have a chance to win back the House majority in 2024, further impacting the political landscape in Wisconsin and the nation as a whole.