Randy “Iron Stache” Bryce, a former Democratic congressional candidate in Wisconsin, announced the founding of a political action committee Saturday dedicated to recruiting and supporting working-class congressional candidates.
Bryce, who worked for years as a union ironworker, ran unsuccessfully in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District in November.
His campaign, initially aimed at unseating then–House Speaker Paul Ryan (R), who announced his retirement in April, nonetheless inspired massive grassroots support from Democrats galvanized by his progressive message and unusual pedigree.
With the creation of Iron PAC, as Bryce is calling the new fundraising group, he hopes to leverage his email list of some 450,000 donors to assist other Democratic congressional candidates who lack the benefit of personal wealth or a network of well-heeled friends.
“We’re not going to be going out to help any millionaires or billionaires ― just people that work, whether you’re a bartender, school bus driver, construction worker ― somebody who works for a living,” he told HuffPost.
Bryce, a 54-year-old Army veteran and cancer survivor, would have been one of very few members of Congress who did not graduate from college. In 2017, just 5 percent of House members didn’t have a four-year degree, compared with about two-thirds of the country, according to Census Bureau data.
Congress is also home to a disproportionately high number of millionaires.
A big reason for that, Bryce and other progressives argue, is the extraordinary fundraising demands on typical congressional candidates. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which helps elect Democrats to the House, focuses on recruiting candidates with big fundraising Rolodexes. Those recruits are disproportionately drawn from law, business and other upper-middle-class professions with access to friends with cash to spare.
Bryce, who benefited from a small-dollar donation operation rare for a House candidate, wants Iron PAC to increase the socioeconomic diversity of Congress.
The current fundraising system “leaves people like me who know what it’s like to live paycheck to paycheck with less of an opportunity to actually become involved,” he said. “And that’s what I think we need. It’s something I really believe in.”
Since losing his race in November, Bryce has been consulting for the progressive Working Families Party’s Wisconsin chapter, contributing, among other things, to the group’s work pushing to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure.
He said that he plans to continue that work but that he wanted to make his own mark on electoral politics with an independent venture. He is launching Iron PAC with an email blast to his donor list with the subject line “My plans for 2020.” The letterhead features “Iron PAC” with steel beams between the words — a riff on his congressional campaign logo.
“If Paul Ryan can handpick and support candidates around the country, maybe I should too. What Congress needs is 50 people who work on their feet, who work with their hands. People who wear boots instead of wingtips,” Bryce writes, bolding the second and third sentences for emphasis.
Strategy and Hustle, a consulting firm founded by Alex Lawson, the executive director of the nonprofit Social Security Works, is managing the rollout of Iron PAC. The new PAC will rent the donor email list from Bryce’s dormant campaign.
Asked whether he has plans to make another run for Congress, Bryce did not rule it out, but he cast doubt on the possibility, given his district, which was drawn to benefit Republicans.
He said his efforts will likely be limited to recruiting and supporting candidates for GOP-held House seats, though he is open to involvement in Senate contests later on. He added that Iron PAC will not get involved in recruiting primary challengers against sitting Democrats.
“It’d be nice to go after the higher-profile Republicans,” Bryce said, noting his experience taking on Ryan. “Somebody like [Iowa’s Rep.] Steve King who is just pouring gasoline on themselves while they’re holding matches.”