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Wisconsin Ironworker Challenges Paul Ryan For House Seat


We're about to meet a congressional candidate who wants to unseat the incumbent in Wisconsin's 1st District. That incumbent is Paul Ryan. Randy Bryce announced his candidacy on Monday. He's an ironworker with a mustache. He's proud of both. His Twitter handle is @IronStache. Bryce's first campaign video, released at the beginning of the week, has gone viral. And it starts with his mother describing her battle with multiple sclerosis.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It's like hot knives going through. And you can't talk, you can't swallow. It's terrible. I'm going to cry.

CORNISH: From there, Randy Bryce and his mom hug. Then come images of him with his son, Randy going to work in his coveralls. And it ends with this.


RANDY BRYCE: I think it's time. Let's trade places. Paul Ryan, you can come work the iron and I'll go to D.C.

CORNISH: Randy Bryce joins us now from Milwaukee. Welcome to the program.

BRYCE: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: Now, just to give people some sense of your background, we mentioned here that you're an ironworker. But you're also not new to politics. You ran in two previous state House races in 2012 and 2014. They were not successful runs. So why do you think it's time to go after a target like the speaker of the House?

BRYCE: Well, I'm a lifelong resident of the area. And I graduated from public schools. After that, I enlisted in the Army, came back. I was diagnosed with cancer, told I probably wouldn't be able to have any children as a result of the cancer operation. Worked two full-time jobs and eventually found the Iron Workers Union. So I'd gotten into the Iron Workers Union, and that was pretty much my ticket into the middle class. And I've been doing that for the last 20 years, about as long as Paul Ryan's been in Congress. I can drive around and I look and I see things that I literally built in the community. And just the other people that I work with and my neighbors, I'm looking what's happening to them, what's taking place as a result of Paul Ryan's last 20 years.

CORNISH: But just to stop you for a moment, I mean, this district has been red since 1993. Paul Ryan has served in the House representing this district since '99. People know him pretty well.

BRYCE: It's not the same Paul Ryan that initially ran. He - I mean, even now he'll come across as a nice guy, but it's been over 600 days since the man has had any kind of public listening session in the district.

CORNISH: You were a Bernie Sanders supporter in the presidential election. I know you've got the support of progressive groups behind you now in this candidacy. But this is a party, a national party, that's been splintered - right? - between that wing and, let's say, the more establishment wing that perhaps was supportive of Hillary Clinton during the campaigns. How do you bridge this gap? Because the party looks like it's in rough shape.

BRYCE: Well, who better to build a bridge than an ironworker? But yeah, it's true, I did - I was invited to speak at one of Bernie's rallies pre-primary. I voted for him. And then after that I was elected to be an elector on behalf of Hillary Clinton. I see myself as a person standing up for working people. And I put people over party, unlike what's going on now.

CORNISH: But you know the politics of Wisconsin, and you know that means winning over some Republicans as well, especially in this district.

BRYCE: Well, it doesn't - you know, working people issues don't affect one party. Even some guys that I worked with on a job site were talking about Donald Trump in a proactive manner. They're like, well, look, his ideas are really good. He hasn't achieved one promise that he made. And people, especially in the 1st Congressional District, are having buyer's remorse.

CORNISH: You've said your Twitter handle, @IronStache, will remain the same during the campaign. It's not going to go official or Washington - right? - Randy Bryce for Congress or something like that. How come?

BRYCE: It's - I'm running - I'm running being me. I'm not trying to be anything. I'm not a politician. I'm a working guy that has - you know, lives in a neighborhood of working people. And it's standing up and it's listening. The big thing right now is working people want to be heard.

CORNISH: Randy Bryce is a Democratic candidate in Wisconsin's First District. He's hoping to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan in 2018. Randy Bryce, thank you so much for speaking with us.

BRYCE: Thank you. Have a fantastic day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.