Dems see opportunity in Republican disarray

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Dan Plutchak | October 12, 2016

ELKHORN -- Despite Walworth County's reputation as a Republican stronghold, Democrats see opportunity in the growing disarray within Republican Party leadership.
Democrat Ryan Solen, who is challenging Republican Paul Ryan of Janesville, the speaker of the House, for the 1st Congressional District seat, says he's receiving support from unusual places.
Solen, of Mount Pleasant, is an information security analyst at SC Johnson and Son in Racine and is in his first run for Congress.
He attended Saturday's Republican Party Fall Fest in Elkhorn to listen to what party leaders had to say and to talk to voters, even though he didn't expect many to agree with him.
He arrived by himself, wearing a suit and Vote for Solen button, and says he was surprised by the cordial conversations he had.
In this strange political year, Solen says he's received campaign donations and support from Republican voters who are fed up that Ryan won't unendorse Trump.
"A lot of them have written off Paul Ryan," Solen said. "I've never seen anything like it before."
Solen said that of the people he talked to, he found they had common goals.
"We all want good health care, education, infrastructure, safety and a better future for our kids," he said. "Disagreement comes in when we try to figure out how to get there."
Ryan, Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ron Johnson all attended the event, and although they continue to distance themselves from Trump's comments, they have not pulled their endorsements.
Ryan reportedly told other Republican leaders Monday that he no longer would defend or campaign for Trump.
That gives hope to local Democrats who also are working on down ballot tickets, particularly the senate race, where even though Johnson likely will get the majority of votes in Walworth County, a good percent of votes going to challenger and former Sen. Russ Feingold will help him in the statewide vote.
Colleen Robson, chair of the Walworth County Democratic Party, said that local state Assembly candidates have been having good conversations when they go door to door with people who traditionally have voted Republican.
"There is a sense that there is a lot of dissatisfaction among voters," Robson said.
Assembly candidates have been reaching out to a wide base of voters, but the strategy for the Senate and presidential races is focusing on getting as many votes as possible.
Even though Hillary Clinton and Feingold likely won't carry Walworth County, the more votes they can get here helps them statewide, Robson said.
Solen has a similar approach.
Even though traditional Democratic strongholds like Janesville or Kenosha likely will provide significant support for his race, Solen says every area is important to his race.
He spent last Sunday at the Democratic Party headquarters in Elkhorn watching the debate. He's also spent time in Delavan and East Troy.
Four years ago, Democrat Rob Zerban of Kenosha gained roughly 37 percent of the vote in Walworth County in his race against Ryan, boosted by the turnout for the presidential race.
A week ago, two days before the second presidential debate, Trump was scheduled to attend the 1st District Fall Fest, which had been moved to the Walworth County Fairgrounds to accommodate larger than expected crowds.
But then the bombshell video was released by the Washington Post where Trump was recorded prior to a 2005 appearance on the television show "Access Hollywood," making vulgar comments toward women.
Ryan responded with a terse statement: "I am sickened by what I heard today. Women are to be championed and revered, not objectified. I hope Mr. Trump treats this situation with the seriousness it deserves and works to demonstrate to the country that he has greater respect for women than this clip suggests."
It was unclear if Trump was disinvited from the event in Elkhorn or if his campaign decided it would be better for him to hunker down in Trump Tower in New York, but Trump was a no-show. Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, then agreed to attend the event, but later pulled out as well.

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