Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Pade has kicked off his campaign to unseat freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil in southeastern Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District.
Describing himself as "a longshot candidate" for governor in 2018, Pade, 39, said that while he still "felt like I added to the race and I helped in the overall effort to change Wisconsin," he also learned a lot in his first attempt at running for office — lessons he said he'll apply going forward.
"I am here for the long arc of making change in this district and proving that credibility is something that has carried me towards what will be day 1 of this race," he said in an interview this week.
Steil campaign spokesman Alex Walker said in an email that "Bryan is focused on serving the people of Southeast Wisconsin and solving problems, not partisan politics."
Since the gubernatorial primary last August, Pade said he has stayed active in the district and eventually people began asking him about whether he was interested in becoming a congressional candidate.
Ultimately, he decided to run for office again because he has "knowledge and understanding of the leadership that’s needed to tackle these challenges that we have right now."
That includes promoting affordable health care, a key issue of his campaign and one he said is very personal to him. Pade's father passed away when Pade was 14, and his family lost its health insurance, causing Pade's mother to buy what he called a "junk insurance" plan with a high deductible.
Pade said he supports having a "strong public option," rather than essentially eliminating private health insurance and enrolling people into a government-run program — a debate that's also playing out among the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls.
"The current 'Medicare for All' proposals out there — I don’t agree with getting rid of private insurance," he said. "I think that that is not the right decision. I think there should be choices out there. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reform the way insurance works."
Pade's other priorities include addressing economic uncertainty and "bringing courage and conviction" to Washington, D.C.
The 1st District, previously represented by former House Speaker Paul Ryan, was seen as a potential Democratic pick-up opportunity in the 2018 cycle. But it's is rated as a "solid Republican" seat by the Cook Political Report's 2020 House rankings, which labels it as a district with a plus-five GOP advantage.
The seat was contested last year as Democrat and iron worker Randy Bryce faced off against Steil, a former UW regent, in the race to replace Ryan. Steil ended up prevailing with nearly 55 percent of the vote.
Through the first six months of 2019, Steil has raised around $900,000. His nearly $530,000 fundraising haul in the second quarter of the year meant he outraised all other Wisconsin House members.
Pade, who said he's taken a pledge not to accept corporate political action committee money in his campaign, acknowledged the race would be "a challenge," and added to topple Steil, he'd need to have "better ideas" and be able to out-organize the Janesville Republican in order to generate funding from the grassroots.
"What’s going to fuel people to want to get involved, to want to invest in me as a leader and the ideas I represent, are what am I going to be for, how are we going to make our lives better in the next 10, 20 years with the ideas that I want to bring to Congress and that’s the only way we’re going to be able to raise a lot of money and get the kind of organization we need to win this district," he said.
There are few other publicly contested congressional races so far in Wisconsin. In the northeastern 8th District, Democratic state Rep. Amanda Stuck has announced a challenge to GOP U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, while first-time Democratic candidate Matt Boor is running against U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah, in the eastern 6th District.
Meanwhile, Republican Cindy Werner has registered her candidacy with the Federal Elections Commission for the Milwaukee-area 4th District, which is held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore. She has previously run for the seat.
Other candidates, meanwhile, have registered as primary opponents to some incumbent House members, according to filings posted at the FEC.