Former WI Democratic Rep. Peter Barca launches congressional comeback bid

  • Peter Barca, a former Democratic congressman from southeast Wisconsin in the 1990s, announced his candidacy for Congress against Republican incumbent Bryan Steil, who seeks a fourth term.
  • Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, previously held by Paul Ryan, has become more competitive after new boundary lines were adopted in 2022.
  • Barca’s political history includes previous terms in Congress and leadership roles in the state Assembly.

A Democrat who represented southeast Wisconsin in Congress in the 1990s before going on to become a leader in the Assembly and state revenue secretary announced Thursday that he’s running for Congress again.

Peter Barca announced his bid against Republican U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, who is seeking a fourth term. Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, previously represented by former House Speaker Paul Ryan, leans Republican but was made more competitive under new boundary lines adopted in 2022.

The seat is a target for Democrats nationally as they attempt to regain majority control of the House. It is one of only two congressional districts in Wisconsin that are viewed as competitive. The other is western Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District held by Republican U.S. Rep. Derrick Van Orden.


Republicans hold six of Wisconsin’s eight congressional seats.

Wisconsin State Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca speaks to the press in the state capitol building on Feb. 25, 2011, in Madison, Wisconsin. Barca, who represented southeast Wisconsin in Congress in the 1990s before going on to become a leader in the Assembly and state revenue secretary, has announced that he is running for Congress again. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Barca, 68, previously held the 1st Congressional District seat from 1993 to 1995. He had previously considered running again for the seat after Ryan stepped down in 2018.

Barca is the first well-known Democrat to get into the race. National Democrats are expected to back Barca’s campaign. The primary is Aug. 13.

Barca, in a statement announcing his campaign, said his long record of public service showed that he was a fighter for working families and contrasted himself with a “do-nothing, dysfunctional Congress.”

“We need someone to step up and start going to bat for our families again,” he said.

The Steil campaign said in a statement that Barca has “put his political career ahead of Wisconsin families” over the past 40 years. The campaign also faulted Barca for opposing a 2016 bill that would have banned sanctuary cities and for voting in 1993 for a budget bill in Congress that raised the gas tax.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Mike Marinella branded Barca as a “sacrificial lamb” who has “put his out of touch policies ahead of Wisconsinites.”

Steil was elected in 2018 by 12 percentage points, and won reelection by 19 points in 2020 and 9 points in 2022.

Barca was elected to serve in the state Assembly from 1985 until 1993 when he resigned after winning a special election to Congress. After he lost in 1995, former President Bill Clinton appointed him to serve as Midwest regional administrator to the U.S. Small Business Administration.


He was elected again to the Assembly in 2008 and served as Democratic minority leader from 2011 to 2017.

Barca was leader of Democrats in 2011 during the fight over collective bargaining rights. While his Democratic colleagues in the Senate fled to Illinois in an attempt to block passage of a bill that effectively ended collective bargaining for public workers, Barca helped organize a filibuster in the Assembly that lasted more than 60 hours.

Barca stepped down as minority leader, in part over grumbling from fellow Democrats over his support for a $3 billion incentive package for Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturing company that had planned to locate a massive facility in his district.

Barca left the Assembly in 2019 when Gov. Tony Evers tapped him to be secretary of the state Department of Revenue. He resigned last month.