By BILL BARROW
In a nod toward their hopes of a wave election in November, national Democrats are taking sides in a Wisconsin primary battle for the right to challenge Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan in the fall midterms.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee tapped the ironworker Randy Bryce over the educator Cathy Myers for its newly expanded list of 33 top prospects for flipping a Republican seat, bringing more attention to Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District race and prompting new accusations of interference in an internal party contest.
Including a possible challenger of the Republican speaker in House Democrats’ ” Red to Blue” campaign program is a sign of increasing Democratic confidence that the party can not only flip the 24 seats needed to regain House control but go well beyond a bare-minimum majority.
It’s also an example of national party leaders aligning themselves with a liberal flank that often criticizes Washington power brokers for being too moderate. Bryce, already endorsed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was recruited by factions of a resistance movement that loudly opposes President Donald Trump. He quickly became a cause celebre for the left, one recognized by his moustache and his Twitter handle, @IronStache.
Still, the decision raises new questions about meddling party bosses.
“The DCCC is once again attempting to put its thumb on the scale of a Democratic primary to silence a progressive woman who refuses to take orders from the Washington establishment,” said Myers’ spokesman, Dennis Hughes.
New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of House Democrats’ campaign operation, praised Bryce for “fighting for working people,” and said in a statement that he’s built a strong campaign. House Democrats insist their “Red to Blue” program does not constitute an explicit endorsements, but inclusion comes with organizational and fundraising support from the party. At the end of 2017, Bryce had already raised $2.65 million. Myers had $235,000.
Lujan did not mention Myers.
Ryan’s campaign is unbowed by either challenger. “We’re confident that just like the nine previous election cycles, he’ll be re-elected comfortably,” said Ryan spokesman Jeremy Adler.
Ryan first won the southern Wisconsin seat in 1998. But his district is among those getting new attention after the Democrat Conor Lamb’s recent special-election upset in Pennsylvania’s 18th District, where Trump won in 2016 by 19.5 points. The president won Ryan’s district by 11 points.
In choosing Bryce, Democrats weren’t necessarily aligning behind the candidate whose policies are closest to theirs. Bryce and Myers can both claim progressive credentials.
The two candidates each call for universal health care and a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Both were also arrested recently while protesting GOP immigration policy outside one of Ryan’s district offices. Myers, however, has been unable to match Bryce’s momentum in the campaign — at least outside the district.
Myers argues she has better liberal bona fides because of her decades working as a teachers’ union leader and an outspoken advocate for abortion rights and tough environmental regulations. She also notes that Bryce has lost three previous bids for public office in Wisconsin.
“I am the best candidate to take on Paul Ryan for a number of reasons,” she told the Associated Press in a recent interview.
An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll conducted from March 10 to 14 found Ryan was viewed positively by 24 percent of the national electorate, and had a 37 percent negative rating.
Ryan’s campaign says he is much stronger at home, but it’s not unheard of for congressional leaders to be taken down in wave election years. Democratic Speaker Tom Foley lost his seat in Washington state in 1994 as the GOP swept to a House majority for the first time in four decades.