Fight for the 1st Congressional District
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Rob Zerban and Keith Deschler have their differences, but the underdog challengers in the 1st Congressional District race have at least one thing in common — they continue to throw verbal punches at incumbent Rep. Paul Ryan, especially because the GOP vice presidential candidate hasn’t agreed to debate them.
So, how many body blows can Ryan, a Janesville Republican, absorb before his seemingly comfortable, double-digit advantage starts to dwindle enough that his campaign responds, and will that zone-defense strategy affect him at the polls?
Zerban, a Kenosha Democrat, despite a lack of the same type of name recognition as Ryan, arguably represents Ryan’s most viable opponent since the latter was elected to the House in 1998. And the long shot Deschler, a Libertarian from Racine, could draw votes away from both parties in this, his fourth run for office.
With the election less than three weeks away, they were pushing Ryan to participate in debates on Oct. 25 and/or Oct. 29, if even via satellite hookup, because they say his national exposure the past two months has opened him up for much more criticism and voters in the district deserve a public discussion of their differences.
“Since he’s been on the national stage, people have gotten to hear his positions on the budget, Medicare and women’s issues, including extreme views such as co-sponsoring H.R. 3 with Todd Akin,” said Zerban, referring to the Missouri congressman whose “legitimate rape” comments stirred controversy in August. “I understand that he’s busy ... carrying water and everything for Mitt Romney, but those are just excuses. He needs to engage the voters of this district and articulate his views. It’s what the democratic process is all about.”
Deschler also said that Ryan should play his hand and throw his cards on the table. “I hope that he debates us, but I can understand why if he doesn’t,” Deschler said.
“He is in the lead in the polls, and enough so that he doesn’t feel it’s beneficial to debate his opponents. It does make it harder for me to point out many of his votes over the years that are not consistent with his almost Libertarian-sounding rhetoric,” Deschler said. “Note his support of TARP, the auto bailouts, Medicare Part D, No Child Left Behind, the Middle East wars, the Patriot Act, major defense hikes, raising the debt ceiling without serious budget cuts and the substantial growth in spending and debt in his budget Roadmap.”
Ryan’s camp responded in kind, but had not committed to a debate as of press time.
“In last Thursday’s debate with Vice President Joe Biden, voters in the 1st Congressional District were able to hear Congressman Ryan lay out his vision for our nation’s future and heard the policy specifics that he would advance in Washington,” Ryan campaign manager Kevin Seifert said. “The push for a debate by Congressman Ryan’s opponent (Zerban) is not out of the ordinary, particularly given the fact he is lagging so far behind in the polls.”
“Additionally, the dates extended for candidate forums in the 1st District are Oct. 25 and Oct. 29, so those still are a ways off in terms of scheduling.”
Regardless of whether they’ll actually debate before Nov. 6 or not, the candidates don’t need polls to tell them what constituents are talking and worrying about.
“Voters’ No. 1 concern is Medicare and not wanting Paul Ryan killing it and turning it into a voucher program,” Zerban said. “And the second thing would be jobs and the economy. We need southeastern Wisconsin to prosper again, and unemployment has tripled since Paul Ryan took office in 1998 and more than doubled in Racine and Kenosha. He has a lot to answer for.”
Deschler said neither party, and therefore neither of his opponents, has the answers for solving any real problems.
“Republicans try to slow the Democrats’ big government machine, but they don’t propose enough measures that actually reverse the trend toward bigger government,” said Deschler, who has lost three bids for the state Assembly’s 62nd District (2002, 2004 and 2008).
“Jobs and economic security are on most people’s minds,” Deschler said. “Racine and other big cities in the district have experienced double-digit unemployment and underemployment for far too long, and it’s only gotten worse under (President) Obama.”
“Democrats would rather keep their lower income, blue collar voter base happy by promising them all kinds of entitlements and subsidies to keep them reliant on the government for their economic survival, and to keep them voting Democrat for life,” Deschler said. “Republicans talk a good game about cutting wasteful spending, balancing budgets, lowering taxes to encourage job creation and savings, and less reliance upon government assistance.”
Seifert said that Ryan’s plan for turning around the national economy will in turn help those in his home district.
“With unemployment persistently stuck at around 8 percent nationally, and higher in parts of southern Wisconsin, there is no doubt that growing the economy and creating jobs are among the top concerns for residents of the 1st District,” Seifert said. “Related to this is getting a handle on our $16 trillion national debt, which is causing a lack of confidence and certainty. This is why Congressman Ryan has worked tirelessly to advance pro-growth policies that reduce our debt, reduce the regulatory burden businesses face and reform our tax code so America is more competitive in an increasingly global economy.”
Neither major party appears willing to move from its steadfast positions when it comes to solving key issues and bridging those differences, leaving the public wondering how things such as the so-called fiscal cliff, Bush tax cuts and the national debt will affect their bottom lines.
“My understanding is that none of this (fiscal cliff) will take place until after the new members of Congress are sworn in and that current funding levels will continue, so it’s difficult to discuss specific cuts or proposals right now,” Zerban said.
Zerban doesn’t buy the idea that Democrats aren’t as concerned about the deficit. “(Bill) Clinton balanced the budget. Then the deficit doubled under George Bush and Republicans spent like drunken sailors. And my opponent (Ryan) supported all of those programs and handed (President) Obama the largest fiscal mess ever, and now they’re doubling down on those same failed, trickle-down principles.”
One key piece to the entire puzzle is what to do about Medicare and Social Security.