Race for Paul Ryan's seat descends into family feud

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Christopher Wilson
·Senior Writer
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Randy Bryce, Bryan Steil (Photos: Scott Olson/Getty Images, Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images)
Randy Bryce, Bryan Steil (Photos: Scott Olson/Getty Images, Jeffrey Phelps/Getty Images)

The race for House Speaker Paul Ryan’s seat turned personal this week when the Democratic candidate’s mother denounced an attack ad against her son — featuring his own brother.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a PAC closely aligned with Ryan, announced earlier this week it was launching a $1.5 million television ad campaign against Randy Bryce, the Democrat running for the seat Ryan has held for 10 terms. (Ryan is retiring at the end of the year.) One of those ads features Bryce’s brother, James, a Milwaukee police officer, attacking the candidate for not supporting law enforcement and endorsing his bother’s Republican opponent, Bryan Steil.

On Wednesday morning, the Milwaukee Sentinel Journal published excerpts from a letter from Nancy Bryce, Randy and James’s mother, that was given to them by the Bryce campaign. Yahoo News has obtained a copy of the letter.

“I’m used to my sons getting into disagreements with each other — every mom is. And I understand that my boys see the world differently when it comes to politics,” Nancy Bryce wrote. “There is now a group of people from Washington who consider it a good idea to pit my boys against each other for their own political gain. But they didn’t consider a mother’s pain at seeing her children used as tools in a political fight, splashed with millions of dollars of ads across the airwaves.”

In the letter, Nancy does not condemn James for making the ad but directs her ire toward Republicans, including Ryan and Steil, and asked them to take down the ad. The Journal Sentinel reported in May that James Bryce had considered running for the Republican nomination and had donated to Steil.

“I am disappointed and, frankly, disgusted that we are at a point where the Republican party is so focused on sowing division in our families and communities, with such little regard for the truth,” Nancy Bryce wrote. “Shame on this ‘super PAC’ for running these ads, shame on its leader Paul Ryan for funding them, and shame on people of good conscience who choose to sit idly by and watch this pain inflicted upon a family in the name of partisan politics.”

She added that her husband, the father of the two brothers, was in law enforcement. Randy, an ironworker and union activist, is 53, three years older than his brother; the family also includes a sister.

James Bryce, brother of Democratic candidate Randy Bryce, endorsing Republican candidate Bryan Steil in a campaign ad. (Screengrab: CLFSuperPAC via Youtube)
James Bryce, brother of Democratic candidate Randy Bryce, endorsing Republican candidate Bryan Steil in a campaign ad. (Screengrab: CLFSuperPAC via Youtube)

“I might be getting up in years, but I still have some fight in me, and I’m not going to let these people take cheap shots at my boys. I think it might help for people to know the truth,” she wrote. “Randy and James’ father was a police officer, and Randy is proud to come from a family of law enforcement officials. He also stands for justice and fairness, and speaks up when he sees a wrong being committed.”

The ad says Randy Bryce has been arrested nine times. He was stopped for DUI in 1998, and several times subsequently for driving without a license. His two most recent arrests, in 2011 and 2018, were due to protesting at the offices of Ryan and Republican Sen. Ron Johnson. The March 2018 protest outside Ryan’s Racine office was over the DREAM Act. Bryce was one of more than 20 people arrested. Everyone arrested received a citation and was released.

“There is no excuse for what I did 20 years ago when I got behind the wheel and operated under the influence,” said Bryce in a statement to CNN earlier this summer. “I made a mistake and I regret it. I’ve worked very hard to learn from my mistakes so I can be a man my son can be proud of. I’m not perfect, but I know the struggles working people go through. I understand the mistakes that any of us can make. I’ve certainly learned from mine.”

Screengrab of Randy Bryce with his mother, Nancy Bryce in a Randy Bryce for Congress campagin ad. (Video still: Randy Bryce for Congress via YouTube)
Screengrab of Randy Bryce with his mother, Nancy Bryce in a Randy Bryce for Congress campagin ad. (Video still: Randy Bryce for Congress via YouTube)

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates Wisconsin’s First District as Lean Republican. A New York Times poll conducted last week showed Steil with a 6-point lead.

Bryce — who goes by the nickname and Twitter handle “Iron Stache” — has been a popular figure since launching his campaign last year, raising over $6 million for the race that was originally against Ryan before he announced his retirement. An Army veteran and cancer survivor, Bryce has campaigned on a progressive platform that includes Medicare for all and the abolition of ICE.

For those steeped in American history, the episode recalled an 1871 Senate race in Delaware, in which three brothers, Willard, Gove and Eli Saulsbury, competed for the same seat, held at the time by Willard, a notorious drunk who once drew his pistol on the Senate’s sergeant at arms. All three were Democrats; senators in those years were chosen by the state legislature, which chose brother Eli, who held the seat for the next 18 years.

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