The army veteran and ironworker took one giant step forward to Washington after Paul Ryan announced he wont seek re-election in Congress

Randy Bryce doesnt look like your typical congressman. But this week the thick-set ironworker with an inky black mustache that gave him his Iron Stache nickname took one giant step towards Washington.

Bryce, a 53-year-old army veteran, is running for Wisconsins first congressional district, the seat held by the House speaker, Paul Ryan, since he first won office in 1998. While Bryce was polling well,and his campaign out-raised Ryans by $1.75m in the first three months of 2018, his run looked sure to face fierce competition from the well-heeled Republican candidate who has the backing of the rightwing billionaire Koch brothers.

But on Wednesday Ryan announced he was out the latest high-profile Republican to head for the exit in the Trump administration. We just repealed Paul Ryan, Bryce wrote on Twitter shortly after the news broke. Now its time to replace him.

Bruce said: We pushed him out. One thing I have never accused Paul Ryan of being is stupid. Its obvious we have been able to build something incredible the likes of which he has never experienced in his 20 years in politics. The fight is out of him.

Ryans decision is a major blow for the Trump administration, said Bryce. Hes one of the last people to hop off this sinking ship.

There was already a palpable air of excitement last week when I visited Bryce in his campaign office in Racine, next door to the Black Hand tattoo parlour in this rusting industrial town on the banks of Lake Michigan. On the table by the entrance was a pile of fake mustaches the campaign hands out to supporters. A pen resembling Donald Trump barks quotes from the president when you press it: Look, I am really rich, it says. I will be the greatest president God ever created.

A pile of fake mustaches sit on the table in Randy Bryces office in Racine. Photograph: The Guardian

Racine narrowly voted for Trump in the last election another of those manufacturing towns (malted milk balls were invented here, and it is still home to InSinkErator, the first garbage disposal) that helped Trump win Wisconsin and the White House.

But Bryce sees change coming, and is determined to be a leader of it. For too long politicians have served the interests of corporate donors and the rich and not working people, he said. Trump won because he spoke to those disenfranchised people. But he lied, said Bryce, and along with Ryan has further tilted the playing field against workers.

They wont be happy until people in Wisconsin have dirt floors, said Bryce.

Even before he announced his resignation, Ryan had not held a public event in the district for over 900 days. Bryce said Ryan was scared to death about about how voters would respond to the tax scam Trumps $1.5tn tax overhaul.

He believes voters are deeply upset that the tax cuts appear to favor corporations and the rich over the man and woman in the street. And especially added to the fact that now were being told Paul Ryan said we cant afford social security, Medicare and Medicaid. So people are expecting him to go after those programs next and this is just giving after giving $1.5tn dollars in tax breaks, which makes absolutely no sense.

If as seems likely he sees off a challenge for the Democratic nomination from Cathy Myers, a public school teacher, the battle for Bryce will be winning back voters who swung for Trump, he said.

Most of Bryces campaign support has come from small donations. He has raised $4.75m to date, with 75% coming in increments of $200 or less. Hes confident that the momentum will carry the campaign through to Novembers election. Look at where we are. When we started they said wed get nowhere, and now we have pushed Ryan out of the race, he said.

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Victory will mean listening to Trumps voters, said Bryce. Trump won because he paid attention to working people, he said. Even though things that he said were not factually true. They liked to hear him talk about draining the swamp and fixing DC.

Its interesting talking to people who did vote for Trump theres quite a few who voted for Obama the first time too.

Will they vote for Trump again? No. He hasnt been honest. There will be a percentage who will vote for him for sure. But I am seeing a lot of people whose eyes are open. Look at tariffs he doesnt have a long-term plan. Hes just shooting from the hip.

Bryce has built quite a following online with his @ironstache Twitter account and a series of videos where he has used his own life story to illustrate what he sees as the issues many Americans face.

In one, we see Trump embracing Ryan and the speaker attacking Obamacare before cutting to Bryces mother, who tells the story of her battle with multiple sclerosis. A tearful Bryce sits next to her as she says: Im on 20 drugs, and if I dont take the one that costs them thousands of dollars, I dont know what would happen.

The videos ring true, says Bryce, because this is his real life. In a good year, Bryce can make $70,000 or more, but it is usually less than that. He says if he is elected he will have to go back to work after leaving Congress in order to qualify for his full pension. Even now he has to keep up his union dues so that he can work if things dont pan out.

Most people in Congress dont understand what its like to have to work for a living, he said. According to a 2014 study by the Congress for Responsive Politics, more than half of the members of Congress have a net worth of over $1m. That figure is probably higher now given that Trump has stuffed his cabinet with millionaires. Ryan is reportedly worth about $6.4m.

I mean, its crazy how rich they are. It really is, he said.

Does he worry that he too will be consumed by the swamp? No, absolutely not. Absolutely not, he said, more rattled than when I asked if he dyed his mustache. (He says he doesnt). Im so angry with whats going on, you know. Theres no chance of that happening.

Read more:

Randy Bryce for Congress Campaign Announcement

Randy Bryce, local community activist and life-long resident of southeastern Wisconsin launches campaign for Congress in Wisconsin's first district to take on Speaker Paul Ryan.

To keep up to date with the campaign, sign up to volunteer, or make a donation, please visit Twitter @Ironstache

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