Retired CIA officer Deb McGrath announces campaign for 3rd congressional seat

A former CIA officer and daughter of a former congressman is joining the Democratic primary in Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District to replace retiring long-time U.S. Rep. Ron Kind.

Deb McGrath, from Menomonie, launched her congressional campaign on Tuesday. 

McGrath worked in national security positions for 25 years in both the CIA and the Department of State, serving in Southeast Asia, West Africa, the former Soviet Union and Central Europe. She also served as a captain in the U.S. Army. 

After retiring from her work overseas, McGrath said she returned home to find many of the same problems in the U.S.

“There’s discord and governments not responding to their people. Not responding with the resources that they have, not responding to people’s needs, things like education and health care and voting rights,” McGrath said. “I found that we were still struggling with some of these issues, but that the discord in our country, the polarized electorate was making these problems harder to solve.”

This is the first time McGrath has run for public office. But she said her experience working at different levels of government and in a non-partisan way sets her apart from the other Democratic candidates running for the western Wisconsin district.

She’ll be competing against state Sen. Brad Pfaff, of Onalaska, Eau Claire business owner Rebecca Cooke and U.S. Navy veteran Brett Knudsen in an Aug. 9, 2022, primary.

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Republican Derrick Van Orden is running for the district again after being narrowly defeated by Kind in 2020. 

Since Kind announced he wouldn’t be seeking reelection after holding the seat for more than 25 years, the 3rd Congressional District is seen as the state’s most politically competitive district in the 2022 election.

McGrath, who called Kind “a family friend,” said she believes he has represented the district well.

“He has really been a steward for us. I think he has really tackled some of the issues for farm and infrastructure. I really see that that’s progress that we need to continue,” McGrath said.

Kind endorsed Pfaff in October.

McGrath said she also hopes to work on issues in health care, education, support for veterans and broadband access if elected.

McGrath’s father, former Democratic Congressman Al Baldus, represented the 3rd Congressional District for three terms from 1975 to 1981. McGrath said she is most proud of her father’s dedication to listening to his constituents, regardless of their party affiliation.

“We always had people at our home. It didn’t matter if they were Republican or Democrat, we had to really be able to listen to everybody’s points of view,” McGrath said. “Everyone has a story. He instilled that in me and I have taken that throughout my career and as a working mom, for instance.”

If elected, McGrath would be the first woman to represent the district.