When President Donald Trump appointed Betsy DeVos in 2017, 24-year veteran teacher and 5-year electee to the Janesville School Board Cathy Myers felt a duty to engage in her local politics in order to work to limit the negative effect DeVos would have on her local education system. Myers has since decided to run for retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan’s congressional seat and is currently the only candidate in the race who has previously served as an elected official. Myers’ proven commitment to public education and experience as an elected official is motivating and encouraging.

Ironworker Randy Bryce, whose campaign has raised more than $4 million, has since surpassed Myers as the most prominent Democratic candidate. A union ironworker and Army veteran, Bryce is proud of his working-class roots. He has built his campaign on supporting those just like him — according to the campaign, 75 percent of his donations have come in increments of $200 or less, suggesting support from his working-class peers. Though Myers and Bryce have built campaigns on very different platforms, their ideologies converge on the idea of protecting thy neighbor, and they have both been very successful in their campaigns thus far.

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April 22, University of Wisconsin Regent Bryan Steil launched his campaign for Ryan’s seat, “touting himself as a problem solver who would take on the political establishment,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A former member of Paul Ryan’s staff, Steil lauded his former boss for being “hardworking [and] selfless.” Since announcing his candidacy, Steil has received some criticism from the blue side of the state — with Myers criticizing Steil for his identity as a product of the Board of Regents.

“Scott Walker’s handpicked Board of Regents is dismantling the UW System,” Myer’s said. “As a UW Regent, Bryan Steil has a duty to protect public education, but like Betsy DeVos, he’s using his appointment to undermine our public school system and the ‘Wisconsin Idea’.”

In an official statement, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin referred to Steil as simply a carbon copy of Paul Ryan. “[Wisconsinites] don’t want another Paul Ryan who gave tax cuts to wealthy corporations while attempting to take health care away from millions of Americans,” Martha Laning, the chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said. “Nor do they want someone who will cut Medicaid and Social Security to fund the tax giveaway to the wealthy.”

Steil joins a field of five other Republican candidates for the congressional seat, including overt white nationalist Paul Nehlen. Though there are more Republican candidates than Democrats, the aftermath of Paul Ryan’s resignation announcement has seen a slew of Republicans previously thought to be potential candidates declining to run for the seat. Each of the declinations cited individual reasons, but there is an underlying theme — Republicans don’t seem to want to follow in Paul Ryan’s footsteps, and those who do are arguably highly problematic candidates.

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As such, Democrats have real potential to win this race. Immediately following Ryan’s resignation announcement on April 11, CNN shifted their prediction of the race from solid Republican to lean Republican, a trend which is likely to continue.

The Democrats are the party that cares about all our neighbors and we’re looking forward to getting our message out to voters so we’re fired up and organizing like never before,” Laning said. 

But to take advantage of the potential blue wave, Democrats must build campaigns on more than just being neighborly — these campaigns must be strategic.

Democrats must take advantage of the fact that many Republicans aren’t even supporting their own party, and those who are still in support of their party only serve to further drive a wedge in the middle of the party. A candidate like Bryce is powerful because he holds progressive left-leaning ideologies, while his identity as a laborer and veteran could potentially appeal to more moderate Republicans. Myers’ publicized willingness to engage in productive discourse with Republican candidates demonstrates a respect for the party, which could also appeal to those still on the fence.

It’s tough to beat a Republican in a typically red state, but a blue wave is on the horizon, and this race is part of it.

Cait Gibbons ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in math with a certificate in Chinese.