Paul Ryan quitting changes equation in Wisconsin race
Randy Bryce (left), and Cathy Myers, candidates for Democratic nomination for Congress, 8th CD in Wisconsin. | Photos courtesy candidates' campaigns

Paul Ryan’s quitting changed the basic equation in the race to replace him in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. His Speaker of the House role is moving out of the state in any case.  This election has turned from a contest of nationwide excitement to a more realistically important struggle with echoes across the nation – can a district designed to stay Republican flip to the Democrats?

Wisconsin won’t be out of the national spotlight because of a Senate race the Republicans are pulling out all dark money spots to win, savaging Tammy Baldwin beyond recognition as the New York Times has noticed.

But the CD1 race has receded from national attention. Yet it has aspects of the need for change that echo across the country.

On paper Ryan was still ahead in the polls,  though losing ground when he announced he was leaving. His Republican controlled district was further drawn in his favor after the 2010 census, packing more Democrats into neighboring CD4 where Rep. Gwen Moore retains firm Democratic control and then picking over six counties to better protect what the GOP thought would be Ryan forever.

What the Republicans hadn’t realized – and Ryan seems to — is that the pain of their rule had now been felt in regions they once had taken for granted.  Issues of health care, public education and environmental controls have leaped forward as tax issues and fiscal responsibility – long the GOP’s pet promises – have become their Achilles heel.

But now it is not enough to support Democrat – Randy Bryce or Cathy Myers – just because they would replace the growingly disliked national figure that Ryan had become.

The contest now becomes one about who has better ideas and policies compared to the likely but largely unknown Ryan clone taking his place. The contest becomes an effort to beat Republicans in a district they themselves designed for the GOP to keep.

Ryan’s remoteness, combined with his efforts to slash Medicare and Social Security distanced him from his own community and gave the Democrats their brightest chances in nearly 20 years.  His erratic behavior toward Trump engendered even greater distrust, while also exposing him as a weakling in Congress. The Republicans will now work on the traditional appeal they had in the district and pound the Democrats – once again! – as tax hounds and Pelosi dogs. Same old same old.

Unquestionably Bryce is firmly in the lead among the Democrats. One of his original appeals was the stark contrast his ironworker image made to the slick Paul Ryan. The other Democrat in the race, a schoolteacher, is saying that she will make the best and most appealing candidate against the Republican in November.

Both Bryce and Myers want the election to turn on policy and consistency – and correcting the damage done by Ryan.  Myers reminds all that, running as a progressive, she won her Janesville school races. Her campaign, without context, points out that Bryce has lost his previous elections, though in all those cases he was painfully an underdog running on principle.

While brief and measured in a notably non-political manner in public comments, Bryce has been detailed and policy deft in his platform.  The inevitable public debates that occur before the August primary are his chance as well as hers to demonstrate facility with issues.

Myers’ camp – perhaps her managers more than her — hit a brick wall trying to get debates to start early in April, which was clearly a way of pulling the attention Bryce was getting to her.  But both camps know the debates will flow in the summer leading up to the August primary – and each side says they’re prepared.

The good news is that while they don’t have Ryan to kick around anymore, the Republicans have cleared the path to choose a good friend and sycophant, Bryan Stiel, to run in his place on the GOP side.   Better known Wisconsin names and politicians from the region stepped aside for Stiel to run as the clear leader in a GOP field of several spoilers on the left and right.  While Stiel insists he will be his own man and not some pale Ryan substitute, his track record says something different.

He was a driver for Ryan for several years. He attended a similar school path, taking a job in the same district (lawyer for a package company), reflects similar beliefs and similar aloofness from the plight of the common man and woman.  Stiel is also a party insider, picked by Republican Gov. Scott Walker in 2016 in his effort to shape the University of Wisconsin system in his own ideological image – something that is ruining a once noble institution.  Stiel, though he has no education background, is now a UW regent – and the more he mentions that, the more the voters in the district chuckle since they know it reveals his bondage.

In looks and attitudes, his similarity to Ryan is, frankly, a little creepy. But that means the Democrats don’t have to change their playbook much.


Dominique Paul Noth
Dominique Paul Noth

Dominique Paul Noth for the past decade was editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press and website, He now writes as an independent journalist on culture and politics.