MADISON — Randy Bryce, a union ironworker known by the nickname “Iron Stache,” won Tuesday’s 1st Congressional District Democratic primary in the race to replace Republican U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan in southeastern Wisconsin for a seat he’s held 20 years.
Republicans, for their part, pinned their hopes on a former Ryan aide, picking Bryan Steil, an attorney who is from a prominent family in the same hometown of Ryan, Janesville, in a five-way primary. Steil will face Bryce in the Nov. 6 general election.
Bryce called Steil a Ryan “clone” and branded him “Lyin’ Bryan” in a statement his campaign texted to The Associated Press on Tuesday evening.
“He has no idea what people in this district need,” said Bryce, who defeated Janesville teacher and school board member Cathy Myers in the Democratic primary.
Steil predicted voters will see stark contrasts in their policies. He said he wants to keep money in Wisconsin residents’ pockets. He said Bryce wants to pump more cash into Washington, D.C., and will work for a government takeover of health care.
“I don’t think people are going to be attracted to the failed economic policies of the past,” Steil, who since 2016 had served on the University of Wisconsin board of trustees, said in a telephone interview.
Bryce, who entered the race months before Ryan announced his retirement in April, fueled hopes among Democrats that they can take the southeastern Wisconsin seat that leans Republican. The thickly-mustachioed Bryce burst onto the national political scene with a slick campaign launch video a year ago, raising $6 million and snagging high-profile endorsements from the likes of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who campaigned for him, and labor activist Dolores Huerta.
But Republicans say the hype surrounding Bryce is just that. And personal baggage, including a history of legal and financial trouble, has plagued Bryce and fueled attacks from Myers. She argues that Bryce’s past, which includes failure to pay child support and a 20-year-old drunken-driving arrest, makes him unreliable and unelectable.
In other Wisconsin congressional races:
— 4th District: In this Milwaukee district, seven-term Democratic incumbent Gwen Moore beat Gary George, a former state senator who was convicted of a felony in a kickback scheme in 2004 and ran unsuccessfully against Moore in 2014 and 2016. On the Republican side, deliveryman Tim Rogers beat Cindy Werner, a U.S. Army veteran who moved to Milwaukee 18 months ago from Texas.
— 5th District: In the suburban Milwaukee district, Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls, the second-longest serving member of the House first elected in 1978, defeated pediatrician Jennifer Vipond in his first primary in a decade. Sensenbrenner will face Democrat Tom Palzewicz in the general election.
— 7th District: In this northern Wisconsin district, Democrat Margaret Engebretson, an attorney, beat Brian Ewert, a doctor, for a chance to take on Republican Rep. Sean Duffy of Wausau.