House Speaker Paul Ryan’s decision to not seek re-election makes his district more competitive for Democrats in the fall.
One would have already expected it to be more competitive than usual given Republicans’ poor performance on the generic ballot and in special elections throughout the year. And with Ryan’s exit, Republicans are losing a high-profile incumbent who has won re-elections rather easily in Wisconsin’s first congressional district.
When you take into the partisan lean of the district, the national environment and the potential quality of the candidates, it’s pretty clear that this is going to be a race that both sides fight for.
Based upon the last two presidential elections and how Wisconsin 1 has voted versus the nation, the partisan baseline of Ryan’s district is +11 Republican.
The generic ballot has bounced around a little bit, though has generally shown Democrats with a high single digit to low double digit advantage. If that same shift were applied to Wisconsin 1, Democrats would be quite competitive. It’s also been noted by the New York Times’ Nate Cohn that in open seats where no incumbent is running, shifts in the vote can be even greater than one would suspect just looking at the generic ballot.
The special elections this cycle tell the same story. In the eight federal special elections so far, Democrats have been running an average of over 15 points ahead of their partisan baseline in each district. That’s more than enough to overcome the partisan lean in Wisconsin 1.
Now, special elections aren’t completely the same as the elections that will take place this fall because there will be a lot of other races on the ballot in most states for those, so turnout may be different. Still, special elections have been correlated with the midterm outcome since 1994, and the fall election in Wisconsin 1 will be an open seat like the special elections so far this year.
But perhaps most important is the quality of the candidates running. The Democrats most prominent candidate is iron worker Randy Bryce, whose campaign announced that he raised over $2 million in the first three months of this year. That’s in addition to the over 2.5 million he had taken in by the end of last year. All told, he’s raised a little over $4 million dollars.
Right now, the Republican running who has raised the most money by far is Paul Nehlen, who only took in a little over $160,000 by the end of last year. Nehlen lost by nearly 70 points to Ryan in a 2016 primary. Since that time, Nehlen has posted anti-semitic rants on Twitter.
The Republicans are going to need to scramble to find someone acceptable before the filing deadline on June 1st. There is a deep bench of potential candidates in the district.
CNN has shifted the race from solid Republican to lean Republican.
That’s the same rating as the Cook Political Report. In wave elections (as this one is potentially shaping up to be), the party that benefits from the wave wins about 40% of the seats that the Cook Political Report categorized as leaning towards the other party at this point in the cycle.