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Building a Race Against Ryan

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call
Democrats are already talking about targeting House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan in 2012 in a race that would become nationalized overnight because of the debate over the future of Medicare.

Rob Zerban thinks he can knock off a Wisconsin giant next fall.

And Democrats on Capitol Hill agree that this 42-year-old businessman, a former Republican with limited experience in county politics, could be their best shot at defeating House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R) in more than a decade.

Nobody had any illusions about how difficult the race would be, Zerban said late last week, reflecting on recruitment calls from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other groups that persuaded him to enter the race last month. They said: You have to realize it would take a lot of money and would be an uphill battle. But now its a good time to try.

Indeed, as Ryans national profile balloons, his 2012 re-election campaign in Wisconsins 1st district could be growing more difficult.

The seven-term Congressman is now the face of the GOP plan to transform Medicare, an issue largely blamed for an embarrassing Republican defeat in western New Yorks special election last week. And recent polling suggests that Ryans popularity among independents and Democrats, a group he will need to hold his moderate district, is falling.

The more hes front and center on Medicare, the better chance I think I have, Zerban said.

Democrats certainly believe they have an opportunity to nationalize the Wisconsin House race, driving resources and energy from across the country into a swing district Ryan has held relatively comfortably since 1998. And they believe that fallout from New Yorks GOP debacle will help.

Zerban created a federal campaign committee roughly six weeks ago but sent his first email fundraising solicitation only the day after the Empire States special election.

After last nights loss, Paul Ryans Republican friends will rally behind him and prepare him for the fight of his life. We must do the same, Zerban wrote. Its time for us to show Paul Ryan that we wont let Congress break its promise to our seniors.

Expect liberal groups such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has already been in touch with Zerban, to use their national networks to help defeat Ryan. And DCCC Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) went out of his way last week to prop up Zerbans candidacy.

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