House Speaker Paul Ryan’s retirement creates an opening in his southeastern Wisconsin congressional district for the first time in 20 years, fueling hopes among Democrats that they can pick up the seat that leans Republican.
But a former Ryan aide from a prominent family in his hometown of Janesville is looking to keep the district bordering Illinois under GOP control, even if there’s a Democratic blue wave. Bryan Steil, who won Ryan’s endorsement, won a five-way Republican primary Tuesday for the chance to run for Ryan’s 1st District seat in November.
On the Democratic side, union ironworker Randy Bryce drew national attention and money when he entered the race a year ago with a splashy launch video. He defeated primary challenger Cathy Myers, a Janesville teacher, on Tuesday. He’ll meet Steil in the Nov. 6 general election.
Steil predicted voters will see stark contrasts in their policies. He said he wants to keep money in Wisconsin residents’ pockets but Bryce wants to pump more cash into Washington and will work for a government takeover of health care.
“I don’t think people are going to be attracted to the failed economic policies of the past,” Steil said in a telephone interview Tuesday evening.
Bryce said in a statement: “This win is a victory for all working families in southeast Wisconsin. Together, we made our voices heard — but this fight is far from over. The GOP will do everything in their power to uphold the status quo and elect a Paul Ryan clone who will be another rubber stamp in Washington.”
The thickly mustachioed Bryce, who goes by the nickname “Iron Stache,” entered the race months before Ryan’s April retirement and has raised about $6 million — six times what Myers brought in.
Bryce has also snagged big-name endorsements from the likes of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who campaigned for Bryce in Wisconsin, and labor activist Dolores Huerta.
But personal baggage, including a history of legal and financial trouble, had plagued Bryce and fueled attacks from Myers, a teacher and Janesville school board member. She argued that Bryce’s past, which includes failure to pay child support and a 20-year-old drunken-driving arrest, makes him unreliable and unelectable.
Steil is an attorney who has worked for a variety of manufacturers in the district. Since 2016, he’s also served as a member of the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, appointed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
In Wisconsin’s 2nd District, Democrat Mark Pocan won an uncontested race.