Kind’s retirement could make it harder for Democrats to hold a majority in Congress
The retirement of Representative Ron Kind will make it more difficult for Democrats to occupy the seat of Congress he has represented for more than two decades – and for the Democratic Party to retain a majority in Congress.
Kind announced on Tuesday that he would not stand for re-election in 2022. He was first elected in the 3rd Congressional District in 1996, but faced a tough re-election campaign against a well-funded GOP challenger.
“With Kind out of sight, the Republicans have a very good chance of winning this seat and having a bigger majority in the (Wisconsin) congressional delegation,” said Barry Burden, professor of political science at the University. of Wisconsin-Madison.
Kind continued to be re-elected even as the rural district of southwestern Wisconsin became more conservative. Partly because he was a moderate who campaigned on his connection to rural Wisconsin. But political scientists say it also reflects a natural advantage for incumbents. It may be difficult for a lesser-known Democratic candidate to win in 2022.
In contrast, Republican Derrick Van Orden, who challenged Kind in 2020, hasn’t stopped campaigning, officially launching his 2022 candidacy in April. On Tuesday, Republican politicians across the state and GOP state social media greeted the news of Kind’s retirement with words of congratulations to Van Orden.
Van Orden “doesn’t have to win back everyone who voted for him the last time,” said Brian Westrate, a Republican from Eau Claire who is a former chairman of Wisconsin’s 3rd District Republican Party. “He just needs to convince a relatively small percentage of new voters to vote for him.”
And the race will have national implications.
Democrats only hold a majority of five seats in the US House of Representatives. Historically, the party that holds the White House has lost House seats in 37 of the 40 mid-terms since the Civil War. That doesn’t mean Democrats can’t hold Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District or their House majority, said Kyle Kondik, editor of the Sabato Crystal Ball. But that does mean they probably face an uphill battle. And the coming battle for redistribution only adds to the uncertainty.
“We don’t know what these districts will necessarily look like on redistribution,” Kondik said, “but I think Democrats would feel better if they had a proven track record in these seats.”
The tight margin in Congress also ensures that the race will have a national spotlight.
“I think this will probably be the most focused congressional race – maybe even in the country,” Westrate said.
Nor will the 2022 race be the first time that redistribution – the ten-year process of redrawing electoral district boundaries based on population changes – has affected the 3rd Congressional District.
The district became more Democratic in 2011 with the addition of Democratic-leaning cities Stevens Point, Wisconsin Rapids, and Chippewa Falls. At the time, the political consensus was that the newly designed Congressional Districts were designed to help Republican nominee Sean Duffy win in the neighboring 7th Congressional District. But it also had the effect of making the 3rd arrondissement safer for Kind re-elections.
“The (Kind) district was probably the only one where Republicans gave Democrats something 10 years ago when they drew these maps,” Burden said.
Over the next decade, however, rural Wisconsin’s voting habits changed dramatically. The 7th Congressional District, which includes the Northwoods, has become one of the most Republican voting districts in the state. And the Kind district has become a swing district – voting for Republican Donald Trump for the presidency in 2016, Democrat Tammy Baldwin for the US Senate in 2018, and again for Trump in 2020.
Kondik said it was far too early to predict with certainty which way voters will go next year.
“If the Democrats get a good candidate and they don’t have a bad (political) environment in which to run, if the district stays somewhat similar or maybe (becomes) a little less Republican,” then the race could switch to Democrats’ favor, he said. “I don’t think it’s a total loss for the Democrats. But they’d be better off if Ron Kind ran again.”
Editor’s Note: WPR’s Laurel White and Rich Kremer contributed to this story.