Randy Bryce and Cathy Myers are doing something that is rare in the recent history of Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. They are waging a serious contest for the Democratic nomination to fill the seat representing Racine, Kenosha, Janesville, Lake Geneva, Burlington and other southeastern Wisconsin communities.
Both Bryce and Myers set out to upset Paul Ryan. And rightly so. After two decades of misrepresentation by Ryan, the ultimate D.C. insider, the 1st District was ready to make a change. The subservience of the speaker of the House to the billionaire Koch brothers and to Donald Trump made him a laughingstock — literally the embodiment of a spineless career politician who would do anything for Wall Street and nothing for Main Street — and one of the least-respected political figures in the United States. It was clear that he was beatable.
So clear that Ryan quit.
Ryan saw the writing on the wall and exited the 2018 race before it got started. Had the speaker run for another term this year, we believe that he would have been defeated. With Ryan out of the running, Republican chances are better in November. But this is still a seat that a Democrat can win, and Bryce and Myers have run hard for it.
A union member with a powerful personal story, Bryce collected most of the big endorsements and most of the money early on. But Myers, a Janesville School Board member, has run a persistently feisty campaign and earned her own backing.
So this is a good race.
Unfortunately, at the close of this primary contest, the Myers and Bryce camps are spending too much time griping about one another. We could understand if the candidates disagreed on the issues. But they have taken similarly progressive stands on most matters. So what’s the complaint?
Because Bryce has been considered the front-runner, Myers and her backers have spent a lot of time criticizing him. This happens in politics and, while we think it would have been smart for Myers to spend more time talking about her own agenda and less time talking about her Democratic rival, we understood her motivations.
As the Aug. 14 primary approached, however, the Myers campaign produced an attack ad bluntly arguing that Bryce’s past (an arrest for driving while under the influence and a list of legal troubles mostly related to the bust) would be “exploited by the Republicans.”
The problem with the Myers ad was that it did precisely what it suggested the Republicans might do: It exploited Bryce’s past. And, just as it would be petty for the Republicans to launch such an attack on a Democrat, it was petty for a Democrat to launch such an attack on another Democrat.
In Wisconsin, where Attorney General Brad Schimel was elected in 2014 despite having a DUI bust on his record, voters tend to see the past as the past. They want to hear about issues and ideas — not mistakes that were made years, even decades, ago. So, to our view, the Myers campaign miscalculated.
All too predictably, however, the Bryce campaign hit back, with a short ad that ripped the Myers campaign for going negative.
Then the Myers campaign criticized the Bryce campaign for criticizing Myers for criticizing Bryce.
Here’s what voters need to know: Randy Bryce and Cathy Myers are both qualified and credible contenders for the Democratic nomination — and for this seat in Congress. Both of them are preferable to the Republicans who are running. Either of them could, in a year so volatile as this, win in November.
Instead of sparring with one another, Myers and Bryce should be focused on differentiating themselves from the Republicans — and on building the post-primary unity that will be needed to prevail in a gerrymandered district.
Both campaigns should scrap the negative ads and go positive — talking up their own strengths, their own ideas, their own values. Bryce and Myers should seek to win on a positive note. And when the results are in, the losing candidate should embrace the winner — forging a common bond in the effort to replace Paul Ryan with someone who is ready to do what Ryan never did: Stand up for southeast Wisconsin.
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