The Fight to Flip Paul Ryan’s District Blue

Like so many Democrats, Evan Brandes is haunted by memories of election night 2016 and the feeling that he didn’t do enough to stop the rise of Donald Trump. Those memories and that feeling energize Evan each day in his work as a Progressive Turnout Project Field Representative in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District (WI-01).

“I will never forget watching Wisconsin go red on election night and I believe that getting people out to vote in Racine and Kenosha and keeping them engaged will make sure that never happens again,” Evan says.

Though not from WI-01, Evan is no stranger to the Congressional District that for two decades has been home to Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who announced in April that he would not be seeking reelection.

“I knew the district because I had volunteered for the Recall Campaign and a County Supervisor Campaign here,” Evan says. “There will be national implications when this district flips in November and it’s going to be wonderful to say that I participated in flipping a seat held by Ryan for the last twenty years!” 

According to The Cook Political Report, “Ryan’s retirement shifts Wisconsin’s 1st [Congressional District] from the Solid Republican column to the Lean Republican, with the potential for the race to become even more competitive.

Contending for the seat left vacant by Ryan’s retirement is Democratic candidate Randy Bryce and Republican candidate Bryan Steil. Bryce, nicknamed the “Iron Stache,” is an Army veteran, union leader, and ironworker; his opponent, Steil, is a lawyer, University of Wisconsin Regent, and a former Ryan-staffer.

Evan reports, “Wisconsin voters are so geared up and ready to go for this election! One voter described it as the perfect trifecta because we have Governor, Senator, and Congress on this year’s ballot. Most of the energy has been around a personal liking of Randy Bryce, the union ironworker and Democratic nominee. He has a strong personal brand that really resonates with voters in these mid-sized manufacturing cities.”

A win in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, Evan says, “would mean that the working and middle class here would have a voice in D.C.”

The other race keeping Evan busy is Tammy Baldwin’s run for re-election to the Senate, an office to which she was first elected in 2012 – the same year Wisconsin went to Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in the presidential election. Only four years earlier, in 2008, Obama won Wisconsin by 14 percentage points, a strong indication of the muscle Wisconsin’s socially progressive voters can bring to the polls.

Baldwin’s 2012 win was particularly significant given her status as the first openly gay person elected to the US Senate – a feat achieved three years before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationally.

Evan says, “For me, I know that Tammy’s first win was so historic, but to re-elect her will solidify the idea that members of the LGBTQ+ community deserve a seat at the table. Plus she’s kind of a personal hero.”

Baldwin has served on numerous Senate committees including Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; Appropriations; Department of Homeland Security; and Department of Defense.

Asked if he thinks his candidates will win in November, Evan exclaimed, “Of course they’re going to win! I’m not knocking these doors for no reason! Plus our office is a block from Randy’s and it’s always full of volunteers and organizers.”

Reflecting on how colleagues at Progressive Turnout Project’s Wisconsin office have grown into friends, Evan says, “knowing that everyone is here to make the world a little bit better is amazing.”

One of his best interactions with voters came when he knocked on the door of a house in Kenosha with intentions of speaking with a family of three.

“They all needed some convincing that this election is important, but in the end they decided that they would like to see change in Madison and D.C. so they signed Commitment to Vote cards,” Evan says. “Their daughter was in school when Act 10 was signed, so they’ve seen firsthand how the quality of education in Wisconsin has gone down under Governor Walker.”

“Act 10” refers to Wisconsin Act 10, also known as the “Scott Walker Budget Repair Bill,” which passed in 2011 and effectively defunded public schools statewide. Running in opposition to Walker is democratic candidate Tony Evers, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and a credible, outspoken supporter of public education.

Evan has found that education isn’t the only issue on the minds of voters.

“They’re talking about protecting the Great Lakes, the source of our drinking water. They’re concerned about attracting high paying jobs back to Racine and Kenosha. They worry about paying their hospital bills if an accident were to happen,” he says. “Many are concerned about the families separated at the border.”

“So far, I’ve talked to maybe a dozen Trump voters who say they’ll never make that mistake again. Usually I will take extra time when talking to them, to better understand their thoughts and motivations. It has been eye opening,” says Evan.

And while not all of Evan’s interactions with voters are positive, he buoys his spirits by “moving on to that next door and remembering that this next voter might be the difference between a Republican or Democratic House or Senate.” He says, “I remind myself that I do this job to protect LGBTQ+ equality and that there are people struggling with a lot more than a few mean voters.”