|Cathy Myers and Randy Bryce (both D-WI)|
I say this because I'm struck by the reaction to Randy Bryce's recently-unearthed past arrests in Wisconsin, and how predictable but disappointing the reaction from Republicans and Democrats has been. Bryce, for those who don't spend every waking moment devoted to politics, is a candidate nicknamed the "Iron Stache" who made a name for himself with his viral ads about being a blue-collar worker who has been abandoned by Speaker Paul Ryan, in whose district he's running. It was an interesting approach, and thanks to Democrats frequently thinking with their hearts and not their heads, despite this being a lost cause (Ryan wasn't going to lose to Bryce, and perhaps more pointedly, he wasn't going to be outspent by him), Democrats showered Bryce with campaign donations, millions of dollars on a race that was never going to be winnable.
And then, suddenly, it became so when Paul Ryan decided to call it quits. I'm not convinced this was due to Bryce at all, but instead because Ryan clearly had come to detest the negotiations with the Freedom Caucus, and perhaps more importantly, he was going to struggle to stay on as leader or Speaker in November when he lost many establishment nominees but none of the hardliners who cause him so many headaches. Rather than watch his once promising career go down in yet another agonizing defeat (the first being his loss for the vice presidency in 2012), he headed to the exits. This had nothing to do with him winning another round in his Wisconsin seat though-that was secure.
It's important to remember that because once Ryan left this race, the seat became less of a symbol and more of a real threat for Democrats to actually win. While Donald Trump won the seat by double digits, Mitt Romney only took it by five, and Obama won it in 2008. It was briefly held by the Democrats from 1993-95, and in comparison to some of the other competitive races that have flipped in the past year (as well as looking at competitive races for the fall), this became less of a "symbolic" place to put money and more a seat that could legitimately help the Democrats win back the House.
This should be good for Democrats, but thinking with their hearts instead of their heads, they thought Bryce needed to get the credit for chasing off Ryan, and have continued to treat him like the frontrunner, showering him with another $1 million this past quarter, and endorsements from the likes of Bernie Sanders. As a bystander, it's like watching a car crash in slow-motion as Bryce won't win this seat because, quite frankly, he's a terrible candidate. Yes, he put together great viral videos, but that won't mean a damn in a general when he's not running against Paul Ryan, but instead Bryan Steil, a Member of the State Board of Regents who doesn't come with Ryan's baggage but does start with the upper-hand in a district that is Republican, but not insurmountably so. This is a completely different ballgame, because suddenly Bryce is now the biggest celebrity in the crowd, and he can't stand up to the limelight.
Bryce, after all, is not some savant politician or even a promising newcomer-he's on his fourth race in six years, after losing contests for the State Assembly, Racine School Board, and State Senate in 2012, 2013, and 2014, respectively. He's been arrested nine times, and while some of those won't matter as much as others (the marijuana & protesting charges are pretty easy to dismiss), his DUI and failure to appear in court charges are going to be a tougher sell to the general public that he's the right counter to bring back morality in the age of Donald Trump. He had unpaid child support when he joined the race, but was still paying for fake Twitter followers at the time. Considering that Democrats are going to need to win suburban women in Milwaukee County to take this district, it's going to be so easy to have Bryan Steil run ads saying Bryce cares more about being a celebrity than taking care of his son. Anyone who doesn't see that is naive, blinded by their own partisanship, or just plain stupid.
The problem here is also that the Democrats have a decent candidate in the primary should they choose to back her. Cathy Myers is hardly the first choice I'd make in this district (I'd probably go with Peter Barca, who held this seat in the 1990's and is a longtime member of the State Assembly), but she's got the profile of someone who could win here. She's a local officeholder (she's in her second term in the Janesville Board of Education), a woman in a year where female candidates have done well, and is a solid fundraiser, albeit nowhere near what Bryce can command. She doesn't have a criminal record, and would be a better counter to Steil, as while she has baggage (she's arguably too liberal for such a district), it would be easy to see him having to run this on a political, rather than a personal level, and considering the Generic Congressional Ballot right now, that's a fight Myers could gain the upper-hand. Neither candidate is guaranteed this seat, but I'd argue that Myers is the only Democrat that could actually win it. We can't beat Paul Ryan, but we can win his seat; I just hope Democrats remember that he's not running before they waste a golden opportunity by backing a sure loser instead of a potential winner.