Potential Challengers Eye Paul Ryan's Congressional Seat

May 30, 2017

Although the 2018 elections are more than a year away, a couple people are thinking of challenging Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Janesville. One national poll has his approval rating as low as 14 percent. Yet closer to home, the latest Marquette poll shows 45 percent of Wisconsinites think Ryan is doing a good job.

Among the issues likely to surface in the race – accessibility.

House Speaker Paul Ryan drew crowds, when he made a rare appearance in his district earlier this month. He spoke at a manufacturer in Racine and took questions afterward. Ryan acknowledged that unlike other members of Wisconsin’s GOP delegation, he has not held a traditional town hall meeting since President Trump took office. Ryan says, instead, he’s been holding telephone listening sessions.

“And I find that the best way is, I do them after dinner, on the phone, at night so people can get me when it’s convenient for them and those have been very, very successful and I’m going to keep doing them,” he says.

Ryan says phone sessions allow constituents to avoid harassment from protesters. But, outside the plant, demonstrators such as Judith Lindquist demanded that Ryan hold an open town hall.

“Basically, if he is elected by the people then he needs to be listening and meeting with people to find out what their views are and how this current health plan is going to affect individuals and families,” Lindquist says.

One person thinking of mounting a bid against Ryan is Charlie Breit. He belongs to the liberal-leaning group Forward Kenosha. It helped organize a recent “empty chair” town hall meeting in the 1st district that featured a Democrat subbing for Ryan. Breit says telephone town halls don’t cut it.

“When the message is controlled to that level, and things like stopping at a business where not everybody can go or stopping at a school where not everybody can go or doing a telephone town hall, I’ve talked to people who can’t even get on the list and ask questions,”het says.

Breit is a political newcomer and resides in Pleasant Prairie, near Kenosha. He’s been canvassing the district, asking voters about issues that matter to them. Breit says one is Ryan’s accountability.

“People are starting to feel, hey does he represent us or does he represent somebody else? He can show up and be at a fundraiser in another state but he can’t show up and talk to us,” Breit says.

Yet Breit acknowledges it would not be easy to topple the House Speaker. Campaign finance reports show Ryan has $9 million in the bank, and at least one outside group is already pouring money into the race. The American Action Network has been running TV ads in Wisconsin applauding Ryan for shepherding through the House the replacement for the Affordable Care Act.

“I think that health care is going to be somewhat of an issue," Karen Hoffman says. She's s political scientist at the Les Aspin Center for Government, based in Washington D.C.

Hoffman says, in addition to health care, Ryan’s connection to President Trump could factor into the race. “Things like how much Ryan is publicly supporting the President, those are key matters that I think can affect his re-election,”she says.

As for the incumbent’s current aversion to holding town hall meetings, Hoffman says there’s plenty of time before November of 2018. “I’m sure you’ve seen or probably been part of the coverage of all of the hullabaloo at some of these town hall meetings and maybe he thinks that’s worse than being criticized for not having open ones,” she says.

Hoffman believes for the most part, Ryan’s seat is safe and 1st District voters will send him back to Washington. But she is less certain about him retaining his leadership post.