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 it’s a good time to try.’”
Indeed, as Ryan’s national profile balloons, his 2012 re-election campaign in Wisconsin’s 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 York’s special election last week. And recent polling suggests that Ryan’s popularity among independents and Democrats, a group he will need to hold his moderate district, is falling.
“The more he’s 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 York’s 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 State’s special election.
“After last night’s loss, Paul Ryan’s Republican friends will rally behind him and prepare him for the fight of his life. We must do the same,” Zerban wrote. “It’s time for us to show Paul Ryan that we won’t 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 Zerban’s candidacy.
“In Paul Ryan’s district, Wisconsin 1, we have Rob Zerban, an outstanding recruit, who decided to come on because he couldn’t stomach the fact that his Member of Congress was the architect of the blueprint, was the architect of a plan that would end Medicare in order to fund tax cuts for big oil companies,” Israel told reporters, repeating talking points he’d been using on cable news shows in the wake of the New York election.
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