A Wisconsin congressional campaign ad has politicos buzzing. It opens with footage from President Trump’s victory lap news conference in early May, when he and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan jubilantly celebrated the House vote to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Then it cuts to sprawling sunrise shots of open fields and grain silos in southeastern Wisconsin, finally landing in a living room where a woman who has multiple sclerosis describes the 20 drugs she must take to control her excruciating pain.
She is speaking to her son, Randy Bryce.
Bryce is a Democrat who on Sunday announced he would challenge Ryan in the 2018 midterm election. He portrays himself as the antithesis of Ryan. He is a blue collar Democrat, union leader, ironworker, Army veteran and single dad.
After listening to his mom, Bryce makes clear how he plans to win: by selling himself as a working class hero who wants to save health care.
He’s a man’s man. He wears T-shirts and dad jeans, hard hats and welding masks. He’s nobody’s wonk. Where Bryce works, sparks fly.
“Let’s trade places,” Bryce says at the end of the ad, addressing Ryan. “You can come work the iron, and I’ll go to D.C.”
Just 48 hours after its release, Bryce’s two minute and 30 second spot is being hailed for its evocative messaging — and being cast as exactly what Democrats need to win over Trump country in 2018.
Some sharing his ad online have compared him to the fictional mustache-wearing Parks and Recreation character Ron Swanson. Someone wrote that Bryce is “genetically engineered from Bruce Springsteen songs.”
Bryce’s Twitter handle — @IronStache — shows his social media swag.
“I don’t just want @IronStache to be my Congressman,” one man tweeted. “I want him to be my father.”
Even Bryce professed to be surprised by the attention the ad is getting.
But it’ll take more than a great ad and working class cred to elect Bryce.
The district covers southeastern Wisconsin from the city of Janesville in the west to Racine and Kenosha to the east on Lake Michigan, south of Milwaukee. It’s Republican. It hasn’t elected a Democrat since 1993. And Ryan has won it with ease since he was first elected nearly 20 years ago.
It went for Trump by 11 percentage points last fall. Ryan won by 35 points.
On top of that, Bryce’s three prior attempts at winning elected office have failed.
He lost a Democratic primary for state assembly in 2012. Two years later, in 2014, Bryce was defeated in the general election for state senate. And in 2013 he lost a 10-way primary for Racine County Board of Education, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“The voters of Wisconsin have already rejected Randy Bryce multiple times,” Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman told the AP. “Instead of fighting for hard-working Wisconsin families, Randy Bryce will say and do anything to get to Washington and defend his liberal special interest friends.”
But Bryce is counting his previous defeats as formative, valuable experiences. He told the Journal Sentinel that he plans to raise $2 million. The newspaper reported that Bill Hyers, campaign manager for New York Democratic politicians Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Mayor Bill de Blasio, is guiding Bryce’s campaign.
The Wall Street Journal’s Reid Epstein reported on Twitter that Bryce’s campaign confirmed raising more than $100,000 within the ad’s first 24 hours.
“I’ve learned a lot,” Bryce told the Journal Sentinel. “The people of Wisconsin know who I am. I have community roots.”
His life story is one with deep blue collar ties, the kind of narrative that used to entice Midwesterners to the Democratic Party but in 2016 had them flocking to Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again.”
The ironworker and union activist is a lifelong resident of southeastern Wisconsin. His mother worked in a doctor’s office and his sister is a public school teacher. Bryce’s father, who lives in an assisted living facility, was a police officer, according to a campaign news release. His brother followed that same path into law enforcement.
Bryce, an Army veteran, took some college classes but never graduated, reported the Daily Cardinal. He survived testicular cancer in his 20s, the campaign said, and had a “miracle child” in his 40s. Bryce is divorced, according to his Facebook page, but his young son Ben makes an appearance in the viral campaign ad.
“I work everyday so that me and my son have insurance,” Bryce says in the spot, a tool belt slung over his shoulder. “I’ve been an iron worker for 20 years. I work hard and I earn every penny that I make. And I know everybody that I work with is the same way.”
He represented the union Ironworkers Local 8 for nine years as a volunteer political coordinator, reported the Journal Sentinel. Bryce is president of the Wisconsin Veterans Chamber of Commerce board of directors, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Veterans Caucus and until recently served on the Milwaukee Area Labor Council board of directors.
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