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Bryan Steil defeats Randy Bryce in 1st Congressional District race

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel logo Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 11/7/2018 Mary Spicuzza

Republican Bryan Steil coasted to victory Tuesday, winning the southeastern Wisconsin seat held by his former boss, House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Steil, a lawyer and University of Wisconsin regent, fended off a well-funded challenge from Democratic candidate Randy Bryce, a union ironworker who racked up high-profile endorsements and raked in more than $6 million in campaign cash from around the country during his run.

Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District is clearly more Republican than Wisconsin as a whole, but that didn't stop Bryce from launching a multimillion-dollar effort to try flip Ryan's seat.

Bryce got in the race over a year ago, in June 2017, with a viral campaign launch video in which he told Ryan, "You can come work the iron and I'll go to D.C." Bryce quickly won endorsements from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders as well as high-profile Democrats and celebrities and raked in more than $6 million in campaign contributions.

For months, Bryce campaigned as the man who could "repeal and replace" Ryan.

The race shifted in April, when Ryan announced he would retire at the end of his term.

Still, Bryce in many ways remained the underdog in his race against Steil, in part because the district has leaned Republican in recent races.

Ryan won re-election by 35 points in 2016. Trump won the district by 10 points that same year. Two years earlier, Gov. Scott Walker won the district by 18 points. 

Bill Barretta smiling for the camera: Republican Bryan Steil will face off against Democrat Randy Bryce in November for Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District. © handout from candidates Republican Bryan Steil will face off against Democrat Randy Bryce in November for Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District.

Bryce also was targeted by more than $2 million in attack ads by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC endorsed by Ryan and House GOP leaders.

Those ads slammed Bryce over his nine arrests, including a 20-year-old arrest for drunken driving, and financial problems, which include late child support payments to his ex-wife. One ad featured Bryce's police officer brother criticizing him; another labeled him a "deadbeat." 

Bryce, 53, repeatedly condemned the ads. He said he thought Republicans decided to spend big in the race because they understood "how symbolic" it would be for a "working person" to take Ryan's spot rather than his friend and former staffer.

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But Steil, 37, sought to portray himself as a political outsider who would bring "Wisconsin-style" solutions to Washington, D.C.

"I'm running as my own man," Steil said. "I think what I bring to the table is unique."

Steil, an attorney for the manufacturing company Charter NEX Films and a regent since 2016, is from a prominent Janesville GOP family. 

Bryce, who lives in the Racine area, became heavily involved in politics during the 2011 protests at the state Capitol over Walker's Act 10, which sharply limited collective bargaining for the state's public workers. He has run unsuccessfully for the state Assembly, state Senate and for a seat on Racine's School Board, making this his fourth run.

Steil and Bryce clashed on just about every issue.

While Steil supports repealing the Affordable Care Act, Bryce backs "Medicare-for-all."

Bryce supports gun control measures such as mandatory background checks, waiting periods and banning military-style weapons, but Steil says the existing laws should be enforced.

Steil supports tighter border security, including building a wall, while Bryce wants to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and backs paths to citizenship for immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

Bryce supports abortion rights, while Steil opposes abortion, saying that he believes life begins at conception.

The race drew national interest and a flood of campaign contributions for months, in part because it belonged to Ryan.

About 90% of Bryce's campaign contributions came from outside Wisconsin, compared to about 38% for Steil.

Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, praised Bryce for his work to win the district.

"Working Families Party was one of the first organizations to recruit Randy, support Randy, encourage him to run. So we've been there from the very, very beginning," Mitchell said. "So we're really proud of him. We think what he's done so far has really transformed the district."

Independent candidate Ken Yorgan, a Racine chiropractor, also ran to represent the district. 

In other races:

3rd District: Democratic U.S. Rep. Ron Kind faced a challenge from Republican Steve Toft, a U.S. Army veteran from Osseo. The race was too close to call Tuesday night.

4th District: Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore easily defeated Republican challenger Tim Rogers, a Milwaukee delivery driver with no political experience or campaign funds to speak of.

5th District: Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner defeated Democratic challenger Tom Palzewicz of Brookfield.

6th District: Republican U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman faced a challenge from Democrat Dan Kohl, a nonprofit and business executive. The race, viewed as the state’s most competitive House race where an incumbent is running, was too close to call Tuesday night.

7th District: Republican U.S. Rep Sean Duffy faced a challenge from Democratic challenger Margaret Engebretson. The race was too close to call Tuesday night.

8th District: Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher faced a challenge from Democratic challenger Beau Liegeois. The race was too close to call Tuesday night.

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