MILWAUKEE — Regardless of who wins the White House, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan is the only one in the race with a solid backup plan.
The Wisconsin congressman is seeking re-election to the U.S. House seat he has won seven straight times, in addition to being tapped as Republican Mitt Romney’s running mate. He won those previous elections by comfortable margins.
Ryan is being challenged this year by Democratic businessman Rob Zerban, whose grassroots campaign focused on his credentials as an entrepreneur, and Libertarian Keith Deschler for southeast Wisconsin’s 1st District seat. But it’s been an uphill climb for both challengers.
Even before he was tapped as Romney’s No. 2, Ryan was seen as a rising star within the Republican Party. As chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, Ryan gained prominence when he drew up an austere budget blueprint that would reshape Medicare for many people into a voucher-like program. He also attracted attention for wanting to keep tax breaks in place that were set to expire for the wealthy.
Ryan crisscrossed the U.S. as the GOP vice presidential candidate, stopping in Wisconsin for high-dollar campaign fundraisers and a handful of rallies across the state. Meanwhile, Zerban relied on grassroots efforts to introduce himself to local voters. The former Kenosha Board supervisor said he would fight for middle-class families where Ryan had failed them.
Zerban tried for weeks to get Ryan to debate him, without success. And he raised less than half the money that Ryan brought in: The congressman raised $4.9 million compared to Zerban’s $2.1 million.
Zerban had hoped his campaign would benefit from the heightened scrutiny Ryan was under as a national candidate, but that never happened.
The 1st District stretches from the shores of Lake Michigan through industrial zones, bedroom communities and farm fields until it reaches Ryan’s hometown of Janesville to the west. The seat, which also includes some south Milwaukee suburbs, has been in Republican hands since 1995.
State law allowed the 42-year-old married father to run for Congress and vice president at the same time.
If he wins both races, he would have to resign from Congress and a special election would be held to fill the House seat, which would put it back in play for both parties.