For the first time in 90 years, voters in Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District will not have a choice on their November House election ballots.
No Republican candidates filed nomination papers with state election officials by the June 1 deadline, meaning Rep. Ron Kind or his Democratic party challenger Myron Buchholz will be the only name on the ballot.
It will be the state’s first uncontested House race since 2006, when Sixth District Republican Tom Petri ran without a challenger.
The last uncontested race in the 3rd District was 1926, when no one challenged incumbent John Nelson. A Republican from Madison, Nelson had won the previous three elections with 69 to 80 percent of the vote. Prior to the 1930s, the 3rd District stretched from Crawford County to Dane County. La Crosse was in the 7th District, which has had contested races in every election since the 19th century.
Tim Dale, chairman of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse political science department, said it’s likely a “perfect storm” of factors: Kind is a popular and well-funded incumbent in a district that leans Democratic; presidential elections tend to bring out more Democratic voters; and having Donald Trump atop the ticket will make campaigning trickier.
“This is not going to be a particularly easy election to figure out how to run in for Republicans,” Dale said.
Dale notes that Kind was already a popular incumbent who was made safer when Republicans redrew the district in 2011, shifting conservative-leaning areas from the 3rd District into the 7th, which is held by Republican Sean Duffy.
“It still is unusual that you don’t get a challenger, even in districts that are safe,” Dale said.
First elected in 1996, Kind has won re-election by comfortable margins in subsequent elections. He is only the 10th person to occupy the office in the past 90 years and has held the seat consecutively for longer than anyone else, having now served one term more than his predecessor, Republican Steve Gunderson. (Nelson represented the district for three terms before being unseated in 1918; he was elected again in 1920 and served six terms.)
UW-L political scientist Joe Heim, who has been watching 3rd District politics since 1968, said he was surprised by the lack of an opponent.
“I assumed Republicans would come up with somebody, even a token, because that’s just the way you do it,” Heim said. “It’s a shame not to have competition at that level.”
Third Congressional District Republican Party chairman Brian Westrate said he spoke to four potential candidates but none was interested in going after the seat this cycle.
With that Democratic edge and Kind’s $2.3 million war chest, Westrate said, his party chose to focus its efforts on key state races, including Julian Bradley’s effort to unseat Democrat Steve Doyle in the 94th Assembly District and Nancy Vander Meer re-election bid in the 70th.
“Any time you put a candidate on a ballot, you need to support them,” he said. “Any support you give them is resources you necessarily take from some other place.”
Westrate said Kind has boosted his popularity by avoiding controversial legislation.
“Ron Kind has spent the last 18 years doing exactly nothing,” Westrate said. “He’s a bad statesman and a good politician.”
Kind’s campaign manager Devin Remiker responded with a statement saying, “Ron Kind doesn’t have a Republican challenger because he’s one of the hardest working representatives in Congress and the people of western and central Wisconsin know it and respect the hard work he does for them every day.”
Kind is not guaranteed to keep his office: He faces Myron Buchholz in the Aug. 9 primary, his first primary challenge since 2006, when he fended off anti-war candidate Chip DeNure with 82 percent of the votes.
Buchholz, a retired history teacher from Eau Claire, said voters on the left have not forgiven Kind for his votes to enter the war in Iraq, to make it harder for Syrian refugees to enter the country and, most important, giving the president fast-track authority to negotiate a controversial trade agreement.
While it has made the 3rd District friendlier to Democrats, Buchholz said he does not like the partisan redistricting.
“When you don’t have competition, you don’t get better,” he said. “What is this really doing for our democracy? Nothing.”