(CN) – Wisconsin’s 1st District, held for 20 years by House Speaker Paul Ryan, remains red after Tuesday’s midterm election with Republican candidate Bryan Steil beating out Democratic challenger Randy Bryce.
Steil, a corporate attorney and former staffer for Ryan who ran on a platform of tax cuts, Second Amendment protections and tighter border security, claimed the lion’s share of votes cast at 58 percent compared to Bryce’s 39 percent when the race was called just after 9 p.m. CST with 75 percent of precincts reporting.
Bryce’s campaign, championing Medicare for all, strong unions and gun control, had a viral start in June 2017 with quick endorsements from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and other high-profile Democrats.
This was all before the race changed complexion drastically in April, when Ryan announced he would retire at the end of his current term. This opened up the possibility of the predominantly Republican district shading to blue after Ryan’s nine-term tenure.
Recent polls gave Steil a healthy but modest lead over Bryce. In the end, the gap proved too much to overcome in a Wisconsin district that re-elected Ryan by 35 points in 2016.
President Donald Trump won the southeast Wisconsin district by 10 points that same year and Gov. Scott Walker won the district by 18 points two years earlier.
In his concession speech from his campaign’s election-night gathering in Racine, Bryce remained positive and resilient, seeing considerable victories in defeat.
“We’re just getting started,” Bryce said.
“We didn’t have enough votes to win, but that doesn’t mean we lost. It was about not having working people be the backdrop anymore, because it’s about time that we’re heard.
“We’re used to getting knocked down, but we keep getting up. We don’t need to win an election to do good things for good people.”
In a statement issued shortly after the results came into focus, chair of Wisconsin’s 1st District Democrats Mary Jonker acknowledged the odds of flipping the district.
“From the beginning, we’ve known that replacing Paul Ryan with a true representative from our district would be no easy task,” Jonker said. “And tonight, those who have the most money, who are the best-connected, and who are the strongest supporters of fear and division are doing well.”
Jonker said “Bryan Steil is now faced with a choice: be simply more of the same in Washington, or be a true representative of the people of Wisconsin’s 1st District.
“It’s my hope, but not my expectation, that he will choose the latter.”
The people of the 1st District were busy at the polling place at Festival Hall, adjacent to the Racine Civic Centre, on Tuesday, despite the rainy, chilly weather.
One voter, Adam Goldstein, said he didn’t see the race as a referendum on Ryan or Trump specifically.
“It’s just about getting people in office that are more receptive to issues that I’m in tune with,” Goldstein said.
For Goldstein, those issues ran the gamut from the direction of the economy to immigration, but LGBTQ rights was particularly important.
“The way that this administration has treated and plans to treat trans people is a huge motivator for me.”
Goldstein voted Democrat across the ticket.
Greg Kaser, a Racine resident who works in sales, said he was going the other direction and cast his ballot for Walker and Steil.
Kaser, who said he tends to vote Republican but not exclusively, cited health care and immigration as key issues.
“With health care I just feel like we’re better off going with the private side of things rather than relying on the government,” Kaser said.
On immigration, Kaser acknowledged he was torn.
“That’s how this country was founded, but we need to encourage a legal system for immigration that includes responsibility for people living in this country.”
Kaser did, however, say he was voting yes on the referendum seeking to relax criminalization of marijuana, which found its way to the ballot in 16 counties.
Matthew Gonzalez, a Racine resident and recent college graduate, voted Democrat and yes on the marijuana referendum. His foremost concern, however, is education.
“I have two kids, so it’s definitely important to me,” Gonzalez said. “Health care for the same reason.”
In Racine after Bryce’s concession speech, Ben Roob, who moved to the 1st District in October and immediately volunteered with the Bryce campaign, mirrored Bryce’s steadfast attitude.
“I’m upset with the results,” Roob said, “but I’m not going to be complicit.
“It was a race by the middle class and for the middle class, and we need more of that.”Follow @@cnsjkelly
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.