BURLINGTON — Wisconsin’s 1st District will remain in Republican hands as Bryan Steil, a Janesville resident and corporate attorney, defeated Democrat challenger Randy Bryce on Tuesday to succeed House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is retiring.
“To those asking, ‘Are we going to take a step forward?’ Tonight is your answer,” Steil said to a group of supporters at the Veterans Terrace in Burlington. “Tonight is a victory for economic progress. Tonight is a victory for less red tape and smaller government. Tonight is a victory to increasing access to affordable health care.”
Steil promised his supporters to take the energy and enthusiasm on which he ran his campaign and take it to Washington.
“I promise to take my problem-solving skills and my Wisconsin style work ethic to Congress, to tirelessly work on your behalf,” Steil said. “What started six months ago is only the beginning.”
According to the unofficial results, Steil received about 54 percent of the vote compared to Bryce, an ironworker and union activist from Caledonia, who received 43 percent in one of the closest races in this district in several years. Independent candidate Ken Yorgan, a chiropractor from Racine, received 3 percent.
In Racine County, Steil received 44,412 votes, Bryce received 39,337 and Yorgan received 2,859 votes. The district also includes Kenosha County and parts of Rock, Waukesha and Milwaukee counties.
With Democrats regaining control of the House in Tuesday’s election, Steil said he will try to work with his colleagues across the aisle to get legislation passed.
“We can work across the aisle in a nonpartisan way, as it relates to workforce development,” Steil said. “I think I can take my background working in manufacturing, working on education on the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and work to bring people together to say, ‘how do we make sure that people are prepared for the jobs of the future right here in southeast Wisconsin?’”
Steil received support from President Donald Trump, and from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who also was re-elected on Tuesday.
Bryce entered the race originally planning to run against Ryan and made himself a national figure from the outset with a 2-minute online ad that went viral.
But after more than a year of campaigning, it came to an end Tuesday night as Bryce supporters watched the results trickle in at The Branch in Uptown Racine.
“We sparked something in this country,” Bryce told his supporters. “Think about when we started, it was before just about anyone else had gotten in ... We didn’t have enough votes to win, but that doesn’t mean we lost.”
Bryce was endorsed by prominent political figures such as former President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a 2016 presidential candidate and a leading voice among progressives.
“Since these extreme Republicans took over our state and turned it into something we don’t recognize anymore, we were getting knocked down,” Bryce said. “But we keep getting up.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Madison who was re-elected Tuesday, was deeply involved in the Bryce campaign along with Racine Alderman John Tate II and state Rep. Greta Neubauer, D-Racine.
Paul Ryan’s legacy
For the first time in 20 years, the district will not be represented by Ryan, who won his first race for Congress in 1998 at age 28.
Ryan, who announced in April he was not going to seek re-election, endorsed and campaigned hard for Steil.
Ryan appeared briefly at Steil’s election party Tuesday night and spent one last election night in the district.
After Steil’s victory, Ryan issued a statement.
“I know Bryan will work tirelessly to represent southern Wisconsin in a principled way and will always focus his energy on helping people and solving problems,” Ryan said. “This race was very important to me. It’s the district that my family and I call home, and it’s the district that I have had the honor of representing in Congress for 20 years.
“While Bryan will chart his own course in Washington, I’m glad that voters have given him the chance to fight for the values we share. I’m proud of him and thrilled that this district will have such strong representation for years to come.”
Steil thanked Ryan for “his commitment to our district, our state and our nation.”
The results of the election are unofficial until clerks from Racine, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Walworth and Rock counties certify the votes.
“I promise to take my problem-solving skills and my Wisconsin style work ethic to Congress, to tirelessly work on your behalf.” — Bryan Steil, 1st District congress representative elect
Journal Times reporter Adam Rogan contributed to this report.
"I promise to take my problem solving skills and my Wisconsin style work ethic to Congress, to tirelessly work on your behalf."
— Bryan Steil, 1st District congress representative elect