The Democratic Party has chosen a new champion: Randy “Ironstache” Bryce, the progressive union organizer set on overturning Wisconsin’s 1st congressional seat currently held by Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
On Tuesday, the populist ironworker managed to secure a near 20 point lead over progressive Cathy Myers, a former school board member and teacher, allowing him to join two dozen fellow Justice Democrat candidates who followed suit with their own electoral victories. This particular campaign, however, wasn’t just a war between the party’s new democratic socialists and their neoliberal rivals — a conflict which has persisted since the 2016 primary between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton — but presented a war between two self-described progressives trying to out-left their opponent. Even when this strategy meant smearing for the sake of victory.
According to a report from The Washington Post, the two candidates were in the thick of intense political mudslinging months prior to the actual vote, where Myers was itching to overtake the seat by using petty attacks against Bryce’s media flubs, reports of his failure to pay child support, and his prior criminal record which includes a 1991 arrest for marijuana use and a DUI.
“We’re not going to hold Trump accountable with viral tweets and poll-tested one-liners,” Myers said in a July debate sitting opposite Bryce. “We have to elect someone that is not going to be able to win, but to serve.”
On the issues, Myers and Bryce tended to agree. If elected to Congress, both promised to support “Medicare for All” legislation and a $15 per hour living wage, which has generated decent levels of support across both parties over the last few years. There was barely even a mention of the Russia investigation, which establishment democrats view as some winning electoral strategy despite the contradictory polls to that effect. Instead, both candidates opted to focus on “exciting the working-class voters” and why people “stayed home in 2016.”
Bryce first gained national attention following the release of a highly successful viral campaign ad from the summer of 2017 describing himself as a leftist that’s “genetically engineered from Bruce Springsteen songs.”
It’s a catchy phrase, sure, but do these left-wing principles hold up under scrutiny?
Open Secrets reports Bryce was able to gain more than $6 million in grassroots, small-dollar donations over the course of the campaign, echoing the genuine support received by Sen. Sanders. The veteran also won the endorsement of Sen. Sanders, for whom Bryce served as a delegate for Wisconsin during the 2016 Democratic National Convention, as well as the state’s own Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, chair of the Progressive Caucus. Each of them gives legitimacy to his targeted left-wing record. Myers, by comparison, was no left-wing sensation, raising only $1 million, one-sixth of the same amount from small-dollar donors. She had an uphill battle, but Bryce proved to be the stronger leftist.
The question remains – is leftism able to secure a general election win?
The Post continues to note the GOP-leaning 1st District has been reliably held by the Republicans since a landslide victory in 1994. Following the tenure of former Rep. Mark Neumann, this seat was eventually passed down to his party’s successor Paul Ryan in 1999, who has since maintained control of the district for two decades. Following Ryan’s announced retirement, the November general will see Bryce facing Bryan Steil, the GOP establishment’s beloved business executive, who was handpicked by Ryan to run.
Initially, these are not good optics for a progressive victory, but Bryce has a significant advantage in terms of cash from the people and a strong message. Consider that Steil has only raised $750,000 in overall donations since his campaign launched. You mean to tell me that the Democrat, who has refused to take any corporate-PAC money, has more than a GOP candidate? The party that can siphon all the money in the world from the Koch brothers, the DeVos family, the Mercers, and an assortment of other GOP mega-donors?
“The message is just a really simple one,” Bryce told The Guardian in 2017. “It’s ‘I didn’t invent lighting, I didn’t invent the internet’ but just a simple message of ‘Look, so here’s somebody who’s gonna stand with you, that has been standing with you and works next to you every day.’”
Democrats have a real chance of winning the open seat, and it’s come in the form of a mustachioed worker who could win the state once flipped by former President Barack Obama in 2008. While overtaking Ryan has long been a pipe dream for Pelosi alumni for decades, a progressive wave may turn the state blue after all.