Paul Ryan's congressional district should be prime swing territory for Democrats. The party held the seat from the 1970s through the mid '90s, and it switches its allegiances during presidential years, voting for Bush in '04 but flipping to Obama in '08. Yet for some reason Democrats haven't bothered lately to field a serious opponent against Ryan. Ryan—the boyish-faced Rage Against the Machine rocker who wears a backwards baseball cap to workout—might look like he just stepped out his college frat house before joining Mitt Romney on the Republican national ticket, but he's actually be in office since 1998, with nary a threat to his seat. This time, Rob Zerban just might be up to the task. Zerban, who formerly owned a catering business in the area, is a staunch liberal, supporting the Congressional Progressive Caucus's budget and wanting to shift the health care system to a single-payer one, what he terms "Medicare for all." There's reason for him to be hopeful. Ryan's draconian budget hasn't played well in a district full of seniors who rely on Social Security and Medicare. Zerban raised nearly $2 million through the end of September, and is running a ad against Ryan's Medicare proposals, calling them stingy. Zerban's campaign released an internal poll in early September that put him just 8-points behind Ryan; striking distance.
On a chilly evening in early October, Jay Ferus stood waiting in the Family Dollar store's parking lot in Racine, Wisconsin. By the time I pulled up, Ferus was already an hour into his 4 to 9 p.m. shift as a canvasser for Working America, the labor group he represents. A chipper 49-year-old with black rectangular glasses and salt-and-pepper hair, he spends most of his time traversing the suburbs of Milwaukee, but on this Wednesday he'd driven an hour south to Racine. He held an iPad on top of a clipboard thick with sheets of paper listing the reasons why Working America had endorsed Barack Obama for president and Tammy Baldwin for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat. "Who stands with America's working families?" blared a headline at the top of each side of the flyer.
The debate got off to a bumpy start, with the bartender struggling to sync the audio between each of the bar's four TVs. City Haul Lounge in Racine, Wisconsin isn't the type of drinking hole where you'd typically find a crowd straining to hear politicians gab. A dive bar in the true Midwestern sense, City Haul is the sort of place with an unironic Pabst Blue Ribbon sign on the side of the building, a place for cheap drinks and few frills, with mixed drinks served in small clear plastic cups. Yet on Thursday night, a dedicated contingent from Paul Ryan's home district trekked past the old warehouse across the street to this small bar to watch the debate, and they didn't need crystal-clear audio to know their opinions on Ryan.
"Yes Joe! Fuck you Ryan!" one middle-aged, slender woman wearing a black blazer shouted as she kneeled on a barstool, flipping her congressman the middle finger as he walked onto the debate stage. I was at City Haul for a viewing party hosted by Working America, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO that attempts to bring nonunionized workers of a similar stripe into the movement.
Lack of proper preparation can be costly. That's one of the main lessons to be learned from the first presidential debate, with Romney taking a slight poll lead following his matchup with Obama last week.
In advance of Thursday's vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, the Prospect has been speaking with past debate stand-ins, the politicians campaigns select to act as their opponent during practice sessions. Yesterday we posted an interview with Jennifer Granholm about stepping into Sarah Palin's shoes to prep Joe Biden for his last appearance on the debate stage.