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Election 2012
5:05 am
Thu October 25, 2012

Amid VP Run, Ryan Working To Keep House Seat

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Paul Ryan is not just Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate. He is also a member of the House of Representatives from Wisconsin, of course, and a candidate for another term. And while he's spending a lot of time on the presidential campaign trial, the seven-term congressman is also spending lots of money to hold onto his district in southern Wisconsin.

Ryan is still considered the favorite to win that race, but as Chuck Quirmbach of Wisconsin Public Radio reports, his Democratic challenger is trying to make it a competitive race.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: When Paul Ryan has been in Wisconsin the last couple months, it's mainly to stump for a bigger office. At a rally last week in Waukesha, he said he looks forward to deer hunting here next month.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PAUL RYAN: I'm going to get to sit in a tree stand with my 10-year-old daughter for her first deer hunt after we have just elected Mitt Romney the next president of the United States.

QUIRMBACH: But Ryan is also running for re-election to represent Wisconsin's first congressional district. Under Wisconsin law, Ryan could not take his name off the House ballot after being chosen as Mitt Romney's running mate. So Ryan joins Joe Biden and Joe Lieberman as politicians who've run for both vice president and Congress in the same year.

But to the frustration of some Democrats here, most of Paul Ryan's campaigning for Congress is being done through TV ads funded by his big campaign war chest. In this commercial, he asks a small group about Medicare.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL ADVERTISEMENT)

RYAN: How many of you are 55 or over? Our solution to save Medicare makes no changes for people 55 or older.

QUIRMBACH: Ryan's ads mostly address issues he's raised on the Romney-Ryan ticket, and except for a brief logo, never mention Ryan's House contest. The Democrat in this race is Rob Zerban, a former county supervisor and business owner. Zerban recently invited reporters to watch him knock on the door of Ryan's House campaign office in Janesville, something Republicans called a political stunt.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

JEANETTE: Hi.

ROB ZERBAN: Hi. You must be Jeanette(ph).

JEANETTE: You must be Rob. Nice to meet you. Great.

ZERBAN: I wanted to come over. We've got...

QUIRMBACH: Zerban gave the staffer thousands of signatures calling on Paul Ryan to debate him.

The district's blue collar cities of Kenosha, Racine and Janesville were represented by Democrat Les Aspin for about 20 years in the 1970s and '80s. A few years later, Ryan was elected to represent the district. Now Zerban wants the seat, and he's frustrated that Ryan won't debate him.

ZERBAN: He has a duty and an obligation to fulfill the responsibilities of running for both offices, and I think one of those is debating me here in the first.

QUIRMBACH: At a nursing home rummage sale near Ryan's upscale Janesville neighborhood, supporter Gerri Schuler says the congressman doesn't need to debate Rob Zerban.

GERRI SCHULER: I'm more concerned with the loyalty, the trustworthiness. As a human being, he's a very upstanding young man, or younger man.

QUIRMBACH: But in downtown Janesville, Kristine Moser says her support for Paul Ryan is starting to wane. While she's voted for him in the past, she's now undecided about doing it again.

KRISTINE MOSER: I actually am kind of worried now about his viewpoints, and I don't know if it's because it was a broader audience or if he's morphed into his Mitt Romney. I'm not sure what's going on there, because he sounds different than how I've known him in the past.

QUIRMBACH: That difference is what Rob Zerban is trying to exploit as he seeks to redefine Paul Ryan in his own TV ads. A Ryan poll last month showed him well ahead, but a poll by the Zerban campaign shows the contest still competitive. Challenger Rob Zerban says it's his goal to see Paul Ryan lose two elections in Wisconsin next month.

For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach, in Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.