It was the summer of 2017 when mustachioed ironworker Randy Bryce rocketed to viral fame, giving defeated progressives hope they could sell far-left policies to Trump-friendly, working class voters in the Midwest. Their optimism was misplaced.
Bryce originally launched his congressional bid on a pledge to “repeal and replace” House Speaker Paul Ryan. After Ryan announced his retirement, manufacturing attorney Bryan Steil (a former Ryan staffer) stepped into the race for his seat in the House, ultimately winning his primary contest by a comfortable margin.
Bryce’s candidacy started on a high, boosted by excitement in the media and Hollywood over his impressive campaign announcement video. But a steady stream of reports raised questions about his past, including nine arrests — three for driving with a suspended license, and one that lead to a guilty plea for drunk driving. Bryce was also revealed to have been delinquent on child support payments, sending his ex-wife a check only after announcing his run for office.
But the race remained competitive, with Republicans running tough ads against Bryce right down to the wire. Though Ryan won nearly two-decades worth of re-election battles by wide margins, the southern Wisconsin district preferred Barack Obama over John McCain by three percentage points in 2008. Rather than running as a moderate to win votes from persuadable centrists, Bryce ran as a staunch progressive, embracing #AbolishIce, tuition-free college, Medicare-for-all, and a $15-minimum wage. Bernie Sanders even campaigned on his behalf.
Some Democrats ardently believe authentic, unapologetic progressivism is more appealing to voters than feigned or sincere centrism. At least in Wisconsin’s First District, that strategy failed Bryce, who raked in nearly $8 million dollars over the course of his candidacy.
His odds of unseating Ryan were always slim, but when the seat opened up, Democrats had a legitimate opportunity to field a candidate who fit the district and could win over just enough voters in the suburbs to succeed. Despite a slate of high-profile endorsements and millions of dollars, Bryce wasn’t able to do it. In fact, with 99 percent of the votes counted on Tuesday night, Steil was up 54.7 percent to 42.2 percent. Double digits.