Wisconsin's 1st District Congressional Candidates Adjusting to Ryan-Less Race

Aug 10, 2018

House Speaker Paul Ryan of Janesville rocked the political world earlier this year when he announced he wouldn’t seek reelection in fall. Now, the seat is up for grabs – with a crowded primary on Tuesday. The district covers Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties, along with parts of southern Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the two Democrats in the race – iron worker Randy Bryce and Janesville School Board member Cathy Myers. They threw their hats into the ring a year ago, when it was assumed House Speaker Ryan would seek reelection. Then when Ryan announced in April that he would be retiring, six Republicans jumped in, but one has since dropped out. The remaining candidates include Paul Nehlen, Nick Polce, Jeremy Ryan, Kevin Steen and Bryan Steil.

Ricardo Torres has been covering the race for the Racine Journal Times. He says with Paul Ryan out of the picture, it’s not surprising that the open seat drew so many candidates – and special attention from Democrats.

“Republicans have had this seat for a long time and Democrats believe that this is the year that they can finally take it and with Paul Ryan not being in the race, a lot of them are feeling very optimistic about their chances to win this seat,” Torres says.

Torres says outside money quickly began pouring into the race for Democratic candidate Randy Bryce. He’s raised more than $6 million so far and has the backing of former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, along with other progressive groups. His opponent in the primary, Cathy Myers, has raised more than $1 million and has won an endorsement from the National Organization for Women. 

Meanwhile, in the GOP primary, House Speaker Paul Ryan has endorsed attorney Bryan Steil. He’s raised nearly $1 million since he entered the race in April. Carthage College Political Science Professor Art Cyr says the race has drawn a lot of national attention, because it’s Paul Ryan’s seat.

“My guess is that will fade because there are so many interesting and tight races across the country, especially where the House is concerned. A lot of money is being focused on this race, but a lot of money is being focused on a variety of races,” Cyr says.

Yet, the national stage may not be so quick to write off Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, according to Lilly Goren. The Carroll University political scientist says attention may pick up after Tuesday.

“I think once the nominees are clear after the primary, you may see more outside money coming in both for the Democrats and for the Republicans, for the Republicans to hold this seat,” Goren says.

Goren thinks Wisconsin will see a hard-fought general election for Ryan’s seat, because voters could go either way. She points out Donald Trump carried the state in 2016, but only by a slim margin.