Randy Bryce has the bulldog bite of a working-class politician
Bryce with New York's Mayor DeBlasio at a fundraiser in New York. | Working Families Party

At first he was just a viral Internet sensation, a mustachioed national vessel demonstrating all that was wrong with Paul Ryan. But from that launch platform announcing his run against Ryan, ironworker Randy Bryce has developed the bulldog bite of a working man politician, using attack tweets – the enemy’s own language — to deepen his message about both Ryan and Trump.

Some examples:

I voluntarily enlisted in US Army-@realDonaldTrump took deferments.
Donald – you are the last person who should decide who can defend us.

On Ryan’s warped statements on the ACA:

@SpeakerRyan says millions losing healthcare is “bogus.” It’s bogus that he’s a so-called “representative” of Wisconsin when he won’t hold town halls.

And what an ironworker knows they didn’t:

This is what happens when you start work on something without reading the instructions first: #Trumpcare

IronStache, as he is more routinely being called on Twitter,  came out of nowhere in late June to challenge Speaker Ryan for his House seat (Wisconsin District 1, jerry-rigged by Republicans out of sections of  Waukesha, Walworth, Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee counties).

His video — about his mother with MS, his son and his survival of cancer, his 22-year career as an iron worker, his challenge to Ryan that “you come work the iron and I’ll go to DC”– was viewed by millions and generated half a million dollars for his campaign coffers in four weeks.

His has been defended by PolitiFacts for saying Ryan has been ducking his own constituents.

As someone who has spent his life on the job, dealing with health issues, raising a family and serving his country, he is a far more believable representative of a community of hard-working people that has grown increasingly angry at Ryan’s reputation as a GOP intellectual leader. Intellectual or wimp? He wants to strip them of Medicare and common sense economic policies, as well as trash that natural southeastern Wisconsin instinct of watching out for one another. The voters know Bryce represents them and Ryan doesn’t.

Ryan’s prominence suggests how desperately the GOP is looking for a figurehead who represents stability while camouflaging ineffectiveness.

It became laughable how much time the Romney people spent running away from their vice president nominee’s unpopular economic policy in 2012.  His inability since to control the GOP House makes any embrace as a Wisconsin “favorite son” look ridiculous, since his inadequacy is a large measure of the Democrats’ successful minority blockade of his worst ideas. If they can do this much in the minority, the public are thinking, imagine what they can do if candidates like Bryce put them back in control.

Emotionally, the time is ripe for Randy, a recent Bernie backer but a longtime outspoken union figure and champion of worker rights. Pragmatically the race remains incredibly uphill. Ryan is already sitting on a $10 million war chest of regular and dark funding. Bryce estimates he will eventually need $5 million to be competitive, but given how quickly he raised the first half million and given how he is generating national attention, his goal is not so farfetched.

On July 25, one big early supporter, the Working Families Party, crowded New York City’s Von Bar with a fund-raiser for Bryce attended by enthusiastic celebrities and Manhattan ironworkers. Bryce also met Mayor Bill De Blasio.

Ryan’s initial press responses about this opponent – the earliest in memory that Ryan has shown worry —  actually haven’t hurt. He elevated Bryce’s credentials by pointing out Bryce is campaign experienced, even ran for office before against other entrenched GOP figures. Wisconsin first took notice of Bryce in 2011 when he stood up in the rotunda of the State Capitol and spoke passionately against Act 10, the bill that stripped state unions of their rights.  So this is hardly a novice fighter for government responsibility. He not only knows the issues, he’s lived them.

The attack focus will probably shift. The Bryce camp faces an immediate test in fiscal sleight of hand given the Foxconn deal for the district.

Another idea picked up among GOP operatives seems similar to the “fake news” bots planted against Clinton in the presidential campaign, trying to create division among the Democrats about who should be the standard bearer.

There is, after all, one other respected candidate in the race – Janesville activist and school board member Cathy Myers, whose campaign people already have Bryce as well as Ryan in their sights, built around Bryce’s enthusiastic membership in the iron workers, who work on the jobs put in front of them, be they pipelines or sports arenas.

Bryce has already turned back criticism on the pipeline work his union does by pointing out his longstanding ecological commitment. His campaign is preparing more position papers, reading how the attack issues may expand to more than opposing Ryan’s base policies but Bryce’s own history as a union activist.

The Bryce effort has already gained local notice. Fearing no strong homegrown candidate would emerge against Ryan, a Democratic operative and writer, David Yankovich, moved from Ohio to Kenosha specifically to run against Ryan. Now he has withdrawn and urged all his backers to switch to Bryce.

Bryce’s view of competition?  “Anyone who wants to take him (Ryan) out I regard as an ally,” he said.

Bryce admitted being surprised how quickly his campaign grabbed national notice, which many tie to Ryan’s fading reputation and anger within his own GOP at his self-protective behavior regarding Trump.

“It’s really only been four or five weeks into a year and a half campaign,” Bryce noted. The press angle right now “seems to be working guy standing up to Ryan. Don’t feel it’s a surprise but long overdue.”

If this becomes a contest between slick-suited self-promoted gym buff and veteran realistic working man, the image game seems in the mustache’s corner. Right now the press is tempted to trap him with “gotcha” questions on national policy where Ryan is a known prepared wonk, but Bryce and his campaign team sound confident about shaping answers beyond the obvious.

The simple basic message, Bryce suggests, is the important one: “Who better to make decisions in D.C. than one of us? One of us is a working person who depends on and appreciates a paycheck. One of us is not going around ignoring constituents.”

Ryan keeps giving him ways to rub the difference in. When Bryce learned that Ryan was charging $10,000 for a photo with him at a private event, he tweeted: “If you see me around, I’ll take a photo with you for zero dollars and a high-five.”


Dominique Paul Noth
Dominique Paul Noth

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