National Dems take aim at Paul Ryan with ‘Ironstache’

Bill Barrow
Associated Press

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 on Thursday tapped ironworker Randy Bryce over educator Cathy Myers for its newly expanded list of 33 top prospects for flipping a Republican seat, raising the profile of Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District race and prompting new accusations of interference in an internal party contest.

Including a potential challenger of the Republican speaker in House Democrats’ “Red to Blue” campaign program signifies increasing Democratic confidence that the party not only can flip the 24 seats necessary 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 the resistance movement that loudly opposes President Donald Trump, and he quickly became a cause celebre for the left, recognized by his moustache and his Twitter handle, @IronStache.

“The evidence is really continuing to mount that we have a real chance to knock out the speaker of the House,” said Bryce spokeswoman Lauren Hitt.

Still, the move, along with decisions in other races, raises new questions about meddling party bosses.

Myers said in a statement that the national party “continues to think it knows better than primary voters and local Democratic activists.”

New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of House Democrats’ campaign operation, praised Bryce for “fighting for working people” and building a strong campaign. House Democrats insist their “Red to Blue” program doesn’t constitute explicit endorsements, but inclusion comes with organizational and fundraising support from the party.

At the end of 2017, Bryce already had raised $2.65 million to Myers’ $235,000. Myers said in her statement that she’s now raised about $800,000.

Lujan’s statement Thursday 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 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.

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll conducted March 10-14 found 50 percent of voters nationally preferred a Democratic-run Congress, a 10-point margin over those who preferred GOP control.

That’s in the range that leaves strategists in both parties eying a wave. It’s not unheard of for such elections to take out congressional leaders. Democratic Speaker Tom Foley lost his Washington state seat in the GOP’s 1994 sweep.

Separately Thursday, Lujan drew new fire from Texas Democrats because the expanded “Red to Blue” list included Collin Allred ahead of a Democratic runoff in the Dallas-area district represented by Republican Pete Sessions. Allard is a lawyer and former professional football player. His opponent, attorney Lillian Salerno, said “folks here are sick and tired of a bunch of Washington insiders trying to make their decisions for them.”

National Democrats had initially preferred non-profit executive Ed Meier, to take on Sessions, but he finished behind Allred and Salerno in a March 6 primary.

Lujan had already angered Texas Democrats and activists when the DCCC last month published a memo criticizing a Democratic candidate in a Houston-area district that is among the party’s top GOP-held targets. The memo blasted Laura Moser as a carpetbagger. Moser went on to claim a runoff spot against attorney Lizzie Fletcher, who has long been among Democrats’ “Red to Blue” candidates.

Moser is endorsed by Our Revolution, a spinoff from Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.

Jim Hightower, a former Texas agriculture commissioner and an outspoken party liberal who backs Moser and Salerno, said in a statement that the DCCC “has gone d-triple-crazy barging into local elections.”

In Wisconsin, it wasn’t a matter of party leaders declaring a philosophical preference.

Both Bryce and Myers call for universal health care and a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Each was arrested recently while protesting GOP immigration policy outside one of Ryan’s district offices.

Myers argues she has better liberal bona fides, with decades as a teachers’ union leader and full-throated supporter of abortion rights and tough environmental regulations. She also notes that Bryce has lost three previous bids for public office.

Bryce counters with an endorsement from NARAL Pro-Choice America and his own decades of union membership and activity. Hitt, Bryce’s aide, adds that the candidate once turned down a lucrative job offer on an energy pipeline because of environmental concerns. She attributes his previous defeats to running bare-bones campaigns in gerrymandered districts while working full time.