RACINE — The restaurants and shops on Main Street in Downtown Racine have a new neighbor in the form of the Randy Bryce campaign, which recently rented space in the 400 block for its campaign headquarters.
“I imagine as this campaign expands, there’s going to be field offices elsewhere,” said David Keith, campaign manager for Bryce, the labor activist from Caledonia who is seeking the Democratic Party nomination to run against House Speaker Paul Ryan in November.
With five paid campaign staffers and “over a thousand” volunteers, Keith said every facet of the campaign has been increasing.
“Thousands upon thousands of people in the district are chomping at the bit to get involved, and we’re building the infrastructure necessary to be a campaign that folks want to be a part of and can believe in,” Keith said.
Democrats ended 2017 with some key political victories across the country, including winning a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, and are now turning their sights on one of the biggest prizes up for election in 2018: Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. Its current occupant: House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has held the seat for 19 years. In June, the Bryce campaign received nationwide attention when it released a 2-minute video announcing his campaign, which has received more than 700,000 views.
Bryce and Janesville School Board member Cathy Myers are the two Democrats who hope to unseat Ryan. They are scheduled to face off in the Aug. 14 primary.
“Momentum is increasing,” Keith said. “We obviously started the campaign off, in June, with a bang. People question whether we could sustain or grow that bang. Obviously, with the financial numbers reported last quarter, we did.”
Before working on the Bryce campaign, Keith was the campaign manager for U.S. Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., and has based himself in Wisconsin for the 2018 1st District campaign.
The Bryce campaign more than doubled its quarterly fundraising from $433,000 in June to more than $1 million in September.
“The strategy is to tell Randy’s story; there’s no secret sauce there,” Keith said. “Randy’s story is not special, it’s common. And it’s common because a majority of people in the district — and frankly throughout the state — can relate to it, and it’s about time that people in the 1st District have someone they can relate to.”
Before trying to get elected into Congress, the Bryce campaign must first win the Democratic primary in August.
The Myers campaign is hoping to create some buzz of its own after raising a little more than $82,500 in its first quarter of fundraising.
With sexual harassment against women inside and outside of politics becoming a national conversation and ramping up the “Me Too” movement, Myers campaign manager Dennis Hughes said it has helped voters look for a female voice in politics.
“(The campaign) really took off in November,” Hughes said. “I think it has, maybe, a little bit to do with the ‘Me Too’ movement that started. It looks like women are looking around the country to be supporting Democratic women running for Congress.”
Last quarter, the Myers campaign received about 7,500 contributions, Hughes said, and so far this quarter it has more than 8,000, including donations from every state.
“It’s been a pretty drastic improvement and normally this is the hardest quarter to fund-raise and we’ve had a great quarter,” Hughes said.
Hughes, a veteran political organizer going back to the Gov. Scott Walker recall campaign in 2011, met Myers in 2013 while working on an immigration reform campaign.
“I actually lived at Cathy’s house. She housed, I think, 15 organizers for campaigns,” Hughes aid. “She and I worked very closely to flip the Janesville School Board to a pro-teacher, progressive majority.”
Right now, the plan is to focus the Myers campaign on the district, Hughes said, adding that they aren’t doing much fundraising outside of the district.
“We want to talk to as many voters as we can one-on-one and get Cathy in front of as many voters as we can because we know that when people meet Cathy, when they get to ask her questions, they support her,” Hughes said. “She’s been elected twice to the Janesville School Board in a nonpartisan race. So she’s able to win the votes of people across the political spectrum.”
Regardless of who wins the Democratic primary in August, it will be an uphill battle to unseat Ryan, who beat his last opponent by 35 percent and whose campaign currently has raised more than $8 million cash for the 2018 election, according to the Federal Election Commission.
Jeremy Adler, communications director for Ryan’s campaign, said Monday that Ryan’s team remains very confident in the speaker and his standing back home. Adler noted that Ryan has been comfortably re-elected with 63 percent of the vote or more every time that he’s been on the ballot, with the exception is 2012 when he was not campaigning because he was running for vice president.
Adler said Ryan’s campaign staff is actively engaged with grassroots supporters across the 1st District.
“Southeastern Wisconsinites know Paul and know that he’s working hard on their behalf every single day,” Adler said.
Ryan is also facing a challenge in the Republican primary from Nick Polce, a businessman from Lake Geneva who served in the Green Berets, and Paul Nehlen, a businessman from Delavan who ran against Ryan in the 2016 GOP primary.