Baldwin, Pfaff warn of threat to democracy posed by Van Orden after final Jan. 6 hearing

By: - October 14, 2022 6:30 am

State Sen. Brad Pfaff (D-Onalaska) and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, discuss the threat they say Pfaff’s opponent, Derrick Van Orden, poses to democracy. (Henry Redman | Wisconsin Examiner)

Shortly after the end of what is potentially the last public hearing of the U.S. House committee investigating the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Democratic congressional candidate Brad Pfaff warned that if Republicans gain control of the House, they’ll put an end to the committee’s work. 

Pfaff, a state senator from Onalaska, is running against former Navy SEAL Derrick Van Orden — who was present at the Capitol on that day — to represent Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, one of the few districts in the whole country that in 2016 and 2020 sent a Democrat to Congress and voted for former President Donald Trump. 

“If the Republicans take control or take a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, it’s expected they will not continue the important work that the January 6th committee has been doing,” Pfaff said. “They’ve been doing a real service to the American public over the last few months. Will that continue?”

Voters in the 3rd District, one of the swing districts that will decide control of the House and the fate of the committee, are choosing between Pfaff and Van Orden, a man Pfaff said the country can’t allow to “slip through the cracks” for his involvement with the attack on the Capitol and the conspiracy theories about the 2020 election that caused it. 

Pfaff laid out the stakes of the election, saying the voters of Western and Central Wisconsin that make up the 3rd District have a “clear choice to make on November 8th. They have a choice to make — if we are going to save democracy, or are we going to elect an insurrectionist? Now, I think all of us recognize that if our house was on fire, we would not ask an arsonist to put the fire out. But this is the choice we have.” 

Yet despite the gravity of that choice and the forceful case the Jan. 6 committee is attempting to make about the dangers of election conspiracism and the Republican party’s attempt to subvert the results of the 2020 election, national Democrats appear to be abandoning Pfaff’s campaign. Earlier this week, Axios reported that House Majority PAC, the outside spending group dedicated to electing Democrats to the House, has canceled ads it intended to run in the district against Van Orden. 

Van Orden has also seen way more outside money come his way than Pfaff. Data from the Federal Elections Commission shows that as of late last month, outside groups and political action committees have spent nearly $750,000 supporting Van Orden and another $25,000 opposing Pfaff. Meanwhile, outside groups have spent $656,000 opposing Van Orden, but only $6,100 supporting Pfaff. 

Polls and election forecasts have consistently shown Van Orden leading in the race. 

Baldwin, who at the press conference recounted her own experience of being at the Capitol on Jan. 6, told the Wisconsin Examiner that she believes 3rd District voters will know what Van Orden stands for by the time they head to the ballot box on Nov. 8. She pointed to a $500,000 ad campaign from Center Forward, a PAC aimed at electing moderates, that shows Van Orden’s actions at the Capitol that day. 

The ad alleges Van Orden was closer to the Capitol building, and the violence, than he’s previously let on. Included in the ad is a clip of Van Orden wearing an earpiece and gesturing toward the Capitol, saying “The Capitol. That’s where we’re headed to right now.” 

“There is a very active independent organization that is absolutely exposing Derrick Van Orden’s role in January 6th and making sure that by his refusal to debate and do public appearances and be interviewed by the media that that doesn’t mean that the citizens of this area aren’t gonna learn exactly who he is,” Baldwin says. 

Pfaff, despite the flagging support from national Democrats, said he’s still fighting for what he believes is a competitive seat. 

“Well, all I can say is that I am actively traveling this district and speaking to people and in communities left and right,” he said. “I recognize the fact that this is a very competitive seat, as do the people of this district. And so I am continuing to travel this district and speak with people, standing in dairy barns as well as doing various town hall meetings, whatever I possibly can in order to continue to reach the voters of this district. I am very confident that come Nov. 8th the voters will have a clear choice in this election. And we’re getting our message out.”


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.