Ratings Change: Ryan Exit Moves Wisconsin 1 from Solid R to Lean R

by Nathan L. Gonzales April 11, 2018 · 10:31 AM EDT

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision not to seek re-election shakes up the GOP leadership ladder in Washington and impacts his party’s ability to hold his seat back home in Wisconsin.

While Ryan’s decision is huge news because of his position, it’s not as electorally alarming to his party compared to the retirements by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida’s 27th District or Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington’s 8th District. Both of them leave behind Democratic-leaning districts that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

Wisconsin’s 1st is not a toss-up district, but could still host a very competitive race under the circumstances.

President Donald Trump won Ryan’s southeast Wisconsin district by 10 points (52-42 percent) in 2016, and no statewide Democrat has carried the seat in a partisan race since at least 2010, according to Inside Elections data. And the average Republican margin of victory in those 15 statewide races, combined with Ryan’s re-election races, is 17 points.

Of course, this is shaping up to be a different cycle than 2010, 2014, and 2016, and might be better for Democrats than 2012. But even in the most recent, nonpartisan election for the state supreme court, the more liberal candidate, Rebecca Dallet, won statewide by 12 points but lost the 1st District by 6 points, according to J. Miles Coleman of Decision Desk HQ.

Republican candidates to replace Ryan will be starting from scratch in fundraising and campaign operation, while Democrat Randy Bryce has been building a massive warchest. “Ironstache” had $1.3 million in the bank on Dec. 31 and raised another $2.1 million in the first three months of this year.

His fundraising could slow because he’s no longer running against a national figure, but he has plenty of money in the bank and a list of tens of thousands of donors to go back to for support. Bryce does face against Cathy Myers, who had $107,000 in the bank on Dec. 31. First quarter FEC reports are due April 15, but the Bryce campaign released some numbers early.

Ryan had $10.6 million in his own campaign account on March 31, and obviously had access to any other financial help he needed. But his presence was also drawing attention to the district.

One of the biggest questions in the new race for the open seat is whether a fresher face from the Republican Party can reach the average GOP performance in the district while getting dramatically outspent.

Republicans have until the June 1 filing deadline to figure out their field. Potential Republican candidates include state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, state Sen. Dave Craig, state Reps. Tyler August and Samantha Kerkman, and Bryan Steil, a member of the Board of Regents. If there is a crowd, the primary will be August 14, potentially leaving more time for Bryce to build his operation.

It’s always helpful to know who is running when handicapping a race. But at a minimum, Ryan’s retirement is a game-changing development and we’re shifting our rating from Solid Republican to Lean Republican.