Wisconsin 3rd District
On the rolling land of western Wisconsin, in the knobby hills just east of the Mississippi River, is some of the most beautiful river landscape in the country. This is where author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s family built their little house in the big woods in the 1870s, before the first railroad came steaming up the narrow floodplain alongside the Mississippi River. Today, it is hard to imagine the big woods. The trees have long since been cut down, and the hillsides are covered with grass grazed by placid dairy cattle. Where the pioneers tried to scratch out diversified crops, later generations of farmers created America’s premier dairy region, producing milk, butter and especially cheese. Some Amish communities from Pennsylvania have relocated here in recent years because land is cheaper. But since 1980, the area has been in flux. More than half of family dairy farmers have gone out of business. Cows have become more productive, and demand for milk has decreased. Wisconsin has also had trouble competing against the European Common Market’s subsidized cheese and butter, and more recently, with products from California’s large-scale agribusiness. But other businesses have done better; Dodgeville, in Iowa County (which is not on the Iowa border), is the headquarters of Lands’ End, the catalog retailer that was sold to Sears Roebuck. In the 1980s, many communities here lost population, but there has been growth since 1990. The most rapid growth in the state has been in commuter-oriented St. Croix County, part of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 3rd Congressional District of Wisconsin follows the Mississippi from the border with Illinois north to St. Croix County, just east of St. Paul, covering the western edge of the state. The district’s two largest cities are Eau Claire, home to home-improvement giant Menards, and La Crosse. This is the nation’s No. 2 dairy district, with 6,000 dairy farms, but it is very different in character from the No. 1 district, California’s 21st, which has more dairy cows concentrated on just 400 farms. It was settled largely by German and Scandinavian immigrants, and it once consistently voted for Wisconsin’s La Follette progressives. More recently, the district has leaned Democratic. Western Wisconsin was the one segment of rural America where Democratic presidential nominees Al Gore and John Kerry ran even with historic Democratic percentages, which was vital to the narrow victory that each won in this state. It produced solid victories for other Democrats, including Gov. Jim Doyle in 2002 and 2006 and Sen. Russ Feingold in 2004. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama carried the district 58%-41%, winning in every county except St. Croix.