When House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) looks out at the crowd from his seat behind President Donald Trump at Tuesday’s State of the Union, he may find himself staring down a mustachioed rival from his home district.
Wisconsin ironworker and potential Ryan challenger Randy “IronStache” Bryce will attend Tuesday’s address as a guest of Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and plans to use the occasion to shine a light on Ryan’s support for the Trump agenda.
“He’s really going because Ryan has refused to hold any public town halls in the district for nearly two years,” Lauren Hitt, the Bryce campaign’s communications director, said in an interview. “So, if he won’t come to the district, we’ll come to him.”
Bryce, a union member, cancer survivor and progressive activist, has become something of a celebrity among national progressives since announcing his bid to unseat Ryan in June. He’s already earned the backing of many national progressive figures, — including former Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), — and his campaign has already raised millions of dollars through grassroots donations.
Bryce’s campaign also plans to run a campaign ad Tuesday night that attempts to tie Ryan to Trump’s agenda. The campaign is spending $50,000 to run the ad on MSNBC and CNN just prior to the State of the Union.
The 30-second spot feature images of Ryan shaking Trump’s hand during the president’s first joint session of Congress in 2017, with audio of Ryan telling reporters “We’re with Trump.”
Trump won Ryan’s district by more than 10 percentage points in the 2016 election. But Ryan has spent the past year dodging questions about the president’s behavior and his campaign’s potential ties to Russia.
Bryce’s planned attendance has already provoked outrage from some Wisconsin Republicans. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), who represents Wisconsin’s nearby 5th Congressional District, issued a statement lambasting Bryce and Pocan for what he called an “overt political stunt.”
“This is an attempt to sow political discourse and deepen a divide in an already fractured political environment,” Sensenbrenner. “Creating a spectacle like this — regardless of position or party — is disrespectful and out of bounds. ”
Bryce responded to Sensenbrenner’s comments on Twitter saying, “Wisconsin Republicans have now spoken out stronger against @MarkPocan for bringing me to
#SOTU than they did against Trump’s shithole comments or description of neo-Nazis as ‘very fine people.’
“It’s no wonder why they’re going to lose in 2018.”
Correction: Jan. 30, 2018
An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of money spent on advertising. The campaign spent $50,000 to run the ad on MSNBC and CNN just prior to the State of the Union.