Randy “Ironstache” Bryce, the self-described “union ironworker from Caledonia,” inched closer to his dream of replacing House Speaker Paul Ryan in Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district on Tuesday, dispatching his opponent in the Democratic primary with nineteen points to spare.
Bryce debuted on the national scene in June 2017, a month after Republicans successfully squeezed legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act through the House of Representatives. Public loathing for Ryan had peaked when Bryce kicked off his campaign in a video describing his mother’s ongoing battle with multiple sclerosis and challenging Ryan to trade places with him. “Come work the iron, and I’ll go to D.C.,” Bryce said.
Almost overnight, the burly, mustachioed Bryce became a progressive poster boy and a glimmer of hope for Democrats still agonizing over their failure to win rust belt voters in 2016. He brought in a half-a-million dollars in his first month of campaigning, and, with Ryan as a foil, kept raking it in. He’d raised $4.7 million by April, when the speaker abruptly announced he would not be seeking reelection.
Without Ryan (or even another viable Republican) to rail against, Bryce’s candidacy briefly looked like it might stall out in the primaries. Outside observers questioned whether he’d be able to distinguish himself from his primary opponent, Janesville school board member Cathy Myers, a retired teacher, who, like Bryce, supported Medicare-for-all and a $15 minimum wage, but — unlike him — did not have a DUI on her record. In the end, Myers’ attempts to make the primary election a referendum on mistakes in Bryce’s past failed. He had a double-digit lead when the race was called around 9 p.m. ET.
On Tuesday, Republicans in Wisconsin’s 1st nominated a former aide to Ryan and virtual carbon copy of the outgoing speaker. Bryan Steil has the same blue eyes, brown hair and bright red Wisconsin Badgers windbreaker. Before Bryce delivered his victory speech Tuesday night, he tweeted out an oppo-research site on Steil and coined a nickname for his general election opponent. “The speaker’s chosen replacement — Lyin’ Bryan, as I like to call him — is just as bad as Ryan,” Bryce told supporters at Reefpoint Brew House on the shore of Lake Michigan in Racine. “And get this: he’s outsourced jobs from right here in Southeast Wisconsin.”
The speech was a preview of Bryce’s general election strategy, linking Steil to two of his former employers: Ryan and Regal Beloit, where Steil worked as a lawyer when the company outsourced jobs from Wisconsin to facilities in Mexico and China, resulting in the closure of a local foundry and dozens of layoffs. On Tuesday night, Bryce invoked Ryan’s endorsement of Steil, who the House speaker said “knows what he’s doing.” “That’s exactly what I’m worried about,” Bryce said. “Paul Ryan won’t be on the ballot in November, but his horrible, anti-worker agenda will be.”
The Cook Political Report rates Wisconsin’s 1st district as “lean Republican,” with a five point GOP advantage. But with a projected Democratic advantage that stands at plus-5.8 points on the generic ballot, the race is likely to be a competitive one. And Bryce will have a lot of support. He’s already notched endorsements from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Justice Democrats, the Working Families Party, NARAL Pro-Choice America and a long list of unions. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has made his race a high-priority too, adding it to the list of 33 “Red to Blue” districts it is determined to flip. And Bryce, of course, has the added advantage of the money he raised to go up against Paul Ryan — $1.67 million cash on hand as of July 25th, compared to Steil’s $631,128.
On Tuesday, though, he was still marveling at how far he’d come. “The fact that we are even here — that you’ve nominated a union ironworker from Caledonia, who just over a year ago was at a job site at a local V.A. talking about how we weren’t being represented here in Wisconsin or in Washington, D.C. — it’s a huge, huge win,” Bryce told the crowd. “It’s a win for working families all across this district, this state, and the entire country. Working people have been shut out of politics. Working families have been forgotten by their representatives. But we took a stand. We fought back. We made our voice heard. And the GOP is running scared with good reason.”