When Randy Bryce’s first campaign video challenging House Speaker Paul Ryan went viral in June, he looked like the person who could speak to both the Sanders and Trump voters. After all, he’s a white man in a blue-collar job who’s worried about the economy, his family, and health insurance.
According to Brian Schaffner, a political science professor who analyzed data from a large study of validated voters, nine percent of those who chose Bernie Sanders in the Wisconsin Democratic primary in 2016 went on to vote for Donald Trump in the general election. That accounts for about 51,000 voters, when Trump’s margin in the state was less than 23,000. Schaffner is careful to specify that Sanders defectors don’t deserve the full blame for the state’s surprising swing to Trump, since there were also Republican primary voters (particularly those who had hoped to have Ohio Governor John Kasich on the ticket) who voted for Clinton in the general election.
But still, it looked in the moment like Democrats needed a white working-class populist to recapture the state, and Randy Bryce checks a lot of the boxes: he served in the Army, his dad was a police officer, he looks great in a hardhat, and he’d stumped for Bernie during the Wisconsin primaries.
Since his breakout, though, we’ve learned more about him, and it turns out that he’s not just a left-leaning populist—he actually checks all kinds of other boxes as a progressive candidate. For starters, his signature issue in that original campaign video was healthcare. His mom, who played a starring role, has multiple sclerosis and takes some 20 medications. Bryce has also said that his dad, a former Reagan Republican whose views Bryce managed to sway to the point that he voted for Obama in 2008, has Alzheimer’s and is in assisted living. Bryce himself survived testicular cancer—he knows that removing the Obamacare rule prohibiting insurance companies from refusing to cover people with pre-existing conditions (or pricing plans prohibitively for these people) would spell big problems for him personally. It’s great to know that he has personal skin in the healthcare game, but what’s his campaign position? It’s not a wishy-washy “let’s make sure everybody can get coverage,” but rather a full-throated call for a single-payer system.
How about the divisive issue of immigration? Is Bryce trying to avoid alienating the white working-class voters who sympathize with Trump’s demonization of immigrants as job-stealers and criminals? Well, it turns out that Bryce is Latino (his biological father was Mexican-American) and he was arrested a few weeks ago for sitting in an intersection outside of Paul Ryan’s Racine office as part of a demonstration pushing for congressional attention to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. (Cathy Myers, another progressive running for the Democratic nomination in the district, was also arrested at the demonstration.)
Bryce has an environmental plan that calls for a Green New Deal, investing in sustainable energy infrastructure projects on a massive scale, as well as an end to subsidies for fossil fuel companies and a ban on fossil fuel pipeline projects. He supports abortion rights, mandated paid leave for family and medical reasons, a $15 minimum wage, and unionization rights for home care workers. Labor rights is a primary issue for him: Bryce has been active in his Ironworkers Local 8 union for two decades, crediting the organization with keeping him alive by providing him with health insurance after his cancer treatment. He has served as the union’s political coordinator and as a member of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council board of directors. He also supported his campaign staffers when they became one of the first groups to unionize under the guidance of the Campaign Workers Guild—they negotiated a contract that includes a 1 percent pay raise, reimbursements for health-insurance premiums, and a formal process for reporting sexual harassment.
Randy Bryce is determined to bridge the gap between progressive policies and working-class voters in southeastern Wisconsin. He told the Guardian last year that he doesn’t see any reason someone wouldn’t have both “Black Lives Matter” and “We back the badge” signs on a lawn: “One doesn’t cancel out the other.”