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Polack Takes On Steil As Wisconsin Dems Try To Win 1st CD For First Time In 25 Years

Courtesy of Bryan Steil and Roger Polack
(From left) Bryan Steil and Roger Polack are facing off in Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District race this November.

In some ways, Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District, stretching from southern Milwaukee County to Janesville, is a political swing area. Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin won four of the district's six counties on her way to reelection in 2018. 

But Democrats have not held the House seat in about 25 years. This fall's Democratic House candidate, Roger Polack, says 2020 is a different situation and is hoping to unseat one-term Republican incumbent Bryan Steil.

>>Learn More About Polack And Steil
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Janesville native Steil had the backing of Rep. Paul Ryan when Steil took over for the retiring House Speaker with a 12 percentage point election win against Democrat Randy Bryce in 2018. But that was also the year Democrats regained control of the House, putting Steil into the political minority. 

Asked about his major accomplishments in Congress, Steil talks of holding many in-person or telephone town hall meetings in the district. He emphasizes he's working to protect the health and safety of residents, and during COVID-19, help get them back to work. Steil says he joined Democrats in voting for the major coronavirus relief bill, the CARES Act.   

"It provided relief to individuals, directly, through checks of $1,200 for most individuals in southeast Wisconsin,” says Steil.

Steil says the measure also helped provide more protective gear for frontline workers. 

But challenger Roger Polack takes issue with Steil's record. Polack is a Racine native who most recently worked in Washington D.C. as an attorney. He earlier served as a civilian intelligence analyst for the U.S. Treasury Department. The Democrat says Steil has voted against some COVID-19 relief packages, including one measure to make sure business aid didn't mainly go to big firms.

"That shows he's not about accountability. He's not about getting funds to the people who need it most," says Polack.

He says Steil has taken too much money from corporate political action committees (PACs), while Polack says he's running a grassroots campaign.

Also related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Polack says the Affordable Care Act should be expanded to more people, while Steil has backed Republican efforts to overturn the law.

A message of law and order has become a growing part of Steil's campaign, especially since the civil unrest in Kenosha in late August, following a police officer severely wounding a Black man, Jacob Blake. 

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Republican incumbent Bryan Steil speaks in Hales Corners.

On Oct. 10, Steil spoke to a conservative gathering in Hales Corners. He said he helped convince President Donald Trump to send more National Guard troops to Kenosha.  

"We flood the zone with resources, and we re-establish public safety in the community of Kenosha. I'm telling 'ya, it was a spectacular scene," Steil said to applause.

Steil's account is different from that of the Wisconsin National Guard and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, who say they responded as local officials in Kenosha asked for the state's help. Steil says he acted as other local officials reached out to him. But Polack says Steil is exaggerating his role.

"He has a track record of working to take credit for the accomplishments of others, and Kenosha is another example of that," Polack said.

Credit Screenshot / Roger For Wisconsin / YouTube
A screenshot from one of Roger Polack's campaign videos.

Despite what he calls a grassroots campaign, Polack has produced a web ad that emphasizes his theme of trying to serve families instead of special interests.

A narrator reads: "Roger Polack isn't taking a dime of corporate PAC money, and he knows something about real service. He served in the Bush and Obama administrations."

Steil, though, has been running several TV ads and getting exposure at campaign rallies for Vice President Mike Pence and President Trump. The House member said this about the president's chances at an Oct. 17 Trump rally in Janesville.

"The polls may tell you Trump may be behind. But look around, look at the enthusiasm we got here. Trump's gonna win four more years!” Steil exclaimed.

National political analysts, like the Cook Political Report, appear to like the chances of Steil winning two more years in the House, as they've yet to add the 1st District race to the list of competitive contests. 

But Polack is counting on disdain for Trump and what he says is a districtwide move back to the center and left, to help elect him to Congress. 

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