US House Races/Wisconsin

Report by Bruce Driver from Indivisible North Boulder.

Wisconsin District 1:

Candidates are Randy Bryce (D) and Bryan Steil (R). This is Paul Ryan’s present district.   He is retiring from the House at the end of this Congress.  

Bryce is an ironworker and is affiliated with Local 8 of the Ironworkers Union, having been Political Coordinator from 2008-2017.  He attended but did not graduate from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He then served in the U.S. Army. He got cancer, beat it and then became an ironworker.  His website’s discussion of the issues is as extensive and detailed as any I have reviewed in these reports. Looking like and fitting the stereotype of the Trump voter in 2016, he is instead an out and out Bernie-progressive.   Here are some of his positions: (1) “Justice for All”: This appears to be a principal passion. He focuses on fairness for people of color (he is Mexican and Polish), training for the incarcerated, an end to privatization of prisons and policing and protecting funding for low-income students.  (2) Healthcare: Medicare for All; healthcare a right not a privilege; opposes the Republican approach to healthcare; wants to legislate minimum safe staffing for nurses in health facilities; negotiate drug prices with Pharma. (3) Economy: raise minimum wage to $15/hr.; fully staff OSHA; heavy investment in green infrastructure; make middle-class tax cuts permanent; implement a financial transactions tax.  (4) Guns: ban assault weapons, bump stocks and other military-style weapons and accessories; implement a 48-hour waiting period before a gun may be finally purchased. (5) Environment: Climate change real; rejoin Paris Agreement; prohibit all efforts to expand drilling on public land; (6) Women: He is pro-choice. (7) Education: free public college and university education. (8) Immigration: pass a clean Dream Act; pass DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans); abolish ICE.  Bryce has been arrested several times, once for DUI, and this, no surprise, has become a campaign issue. He had $1.7 million in cash on hand in late July. By sector, his major contributors include Democratic/liberal orgs.; Retired; TV/Movies/Music; Law firms; and Education.

Steil is a 30-something lawyer who got a B.S. from the School of Business, Georgetown University, and a law degree from the University of Wisconsin School of Law.  He has been General Counsel to a couple of companies and was an associate at a law firm. He was a former aide to Paul Ryan. He is a University of Wisconsin Regent.  He comes from a politically powerful family in Janesville that is close to Ryan’s. Ryan has endorsed him. Steil says that, while he has a very different communication style from Trump, he supports Trump, particularly his conservative reforms.  His discussion of issues is very brief and vague. As best I can tell, he supports 2-year federal budgets; wants to hand over education policy completely to states and local jurisdictions; feels we need a better healthcare system based on Docs and patients, not DC bureaucrats; will defend law-abiding citizens’ second amendment rights; and we need better fiscal discipline.   That’s about it. It certainly seems like Steil is the chosen heir to Ryan by “the establishment.” His position as Regent looks like an act to give him visibility. He had $631,000 in cash on hand in late July. By sector, his major contributors are: Retired; Leadership PACs; Lawyers/Law Firms; Real Estate; and General Contractors.

Description of District Containing the cities of Racine, Janesville and Kenosha, this district is at the far SE corner of Wisconsin.   It is 87% White, 5% Black, 2 Asian and 10% Hispanic (adding to 104%, I know, but this is what the data show.) It has a Household Median Income (HMI) of $62,000, putting it roughly in the middle of US districts.  Trump beat Hillary by 11 points in 2016. It has a PVI of R+5. According to Cook, it “leans R” in this fall’s race. It is comprised of small cities, manufacturing and farms. It has a reputation as “blue collar.”  

Summary: There are only a few districts I’ve reported on that have two such different candidates.   But the roles are reversed: Bryce is just the kind of candidate that Trump wooed to go up against the “establishment,” of which Steil is Exhibit 1.   Ironic. Can Bryce, a flawed candidate, win in such a conservative district, one in which the Republican infrastructure is strong and Bryce is so outspoken on the other side?   Yes, he can, but, in my view, it will be an upset if he does. Watch the national Rs, including Trump, circle the wagons around Steil. Yet, Bryce is far ahead in cash, and money going forward should not be a problem, as he has a national following as the first blue-collar guy to strongly and openly challenge Trump.  The outcome will depend on Bryce’s political skills, especially his ability to turn workers like him against Trump and his policies. This is one to watch closely.