Democrats had already set their sights on Paul Ryan‘s House seat.
But the House speaker’s retirement announcement Wednesday makes winning in Wisconsin’s 1st District a more realistic notion for Democrats as they try to take a House majority in November.
Ryan’s decision not to seek re-election leaves no clear GOP candidate backed by the party. Republicans have time to figure out a plan: the state’s filing deadline is not until June.
Still, nonpartisan election handicappers think Ryan’s absence gives Democrats a better chance in the district in November. Sabato’s Crystal Ball moved its race rating from “likely” Republican to “toss-up” on Wednesday.
Meanwhile the Cook Political Report changed its rating of the race from “solid” Republican to “lean” Republican.
In a statement, Kevin Seifert, executive director of Ryan’s political operation called Team Ryan, said the House speaker has no plans to endorse a candidate for the seat. However, he said the congressman will “work tirelessly so Republicans keep this seat.”
Ryan, who has served in the House since 1999, likely would have won a re-election bid easily. But he probably would have faced a better-funded opponent than he is used to in Democrat Randy Bryce, who appears to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination for the seat.
House Democrats’ campaign arm has backed Bryce, a former iron worker and union member, as part of its high-profile “red to blue” effort to flip Republican-held seats. On Tuesday, Bryce’s campaign said it outraised Ryan’s by $1.75 million during the first quarter of 2018. Still, Ryan likely would have had more money at his disposal when his joint fundraising committee with the GOP and outside support were taken into account.
Bryce seized on the news of Ryan’s retirement Wednesday and blasted out a fundraising appeal to supporters on social media. “WE JUST REPEALED PAUL RYAN,” tweeted the candidate, who goes by the nickname “Iron Stache,” referring to his trademark facial hair.
In a statement, Seifert said Bryce and fellow Democratic candidate Cathy Myers, a small business owner, “wouldn’t stand a chance” against Ryan. He called it “laughable” that Democrats would claim they had something to do with Ryan’s decision, and said polling showed the speaker with a significant advantage over either of them.
One Republican candidate, Paul Nehlen, has previously challenged Ryan but is unlikely to gain traction with the party because he has espoused white supremacist views. Seifert said Nehlen’s “bigoted rhetoric and his reprehensible statements should disqualify him from holding any public office.”
Democrats likely face an uphill battle to win the seat, despite Ryan’s retirement. Trump won the district by more than 10 percentage points in the 2016 election.
Cook’s Partisan Voter Index, which gauges how areas voted in recent presidential elections relative to the country as a whole, rates it as a Republican +5 district.
The National Republican Congressional Committee is confident that Ryan will pitch in during the midterm campaign. NRCC Chairman Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio, said the effort to keep the House “continues unabated.”
“I’m thankful for all Paul has done for the NRCC and am confident he has set us on a path to keep our majority,” Stivers said in a statement. “Paul is also a man of follow-through and I know he will continue to be an asset to us this fall.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee contended Ryan’s decision showed he did not want to defend the GOP agenda. In a statement, DCCC spokesman Tyler Law said Ryan “sees what is coming in November.”
“Stay tuned for more retirements as Republicans increasingly realize that their midterm prospects are doomed,” Law said.