Paul Ryan will square off against his new opponent, Vice President Joe Biden, at a debate in Danville, Kentucky 59 days from now. Both men have spent their adult lives in Congress: At 28, Ryan was the youngest member of his class in the House, while Biden reached the Senate at 29, a year shy of the Constitution’s minimum age for senators. And both men will argue, of course, that Washington is broken. But there is another candidate with the same message – and less Beltway experience – waiting for Ryan back in Wisconsin.
Rob Zerban, a small businessman, is leading an organized Democratic challenge to Ryan’s bright red stronghold in Southeast Wisconsin. That is already unusual. No major candidate challenged Ryan last cycle, when the Republican star won by 36 points, after outspending an unemployed local activist at the punishing rate of 144-to-1. Snap. (The totals were $1.6 million to $12,000.)
Now, Ryan’s promotion is reflecting light on a more prepared opponent. And not just light.
Zerban has raised a solid $75,000 since Saturday, signaling a House race that was nationalized overnight. The Progressive Campaign Change Committee, a national liberal group, also sent a Zerban fundraising appeal to its members over the weekend, touting his pledge to be a “bold progressive” who is “standing up for the 99%.”
With these moves in play, Melissa invited Zerban on the show yesterday to hear directly about his long-shot campaign.
Zerban predicted that voters would oppose the Ryan budget when they heard the details. He volunteered that it “it’ll be fun to watch [Ryan] lose twice, once on the ballot with Mitt Romney and then also in the First Congressional District.” He also argued it was “kind of unprecedented” for a running mate on a national ticket to simultaneously run for re-election in Congress, saying, “We haven’t seen this before.” Joe Biden did the same thing last cycle, though, as did Joe Lieberman in 2000. (They both won the congressional races.) So Democrats are not likely to make much of Ryan’s interest in simultaneous promotion and self-preservation.
The most noticeable part of Zerban’s interview, however, was probably the answer he declined to give:
MHP: “Do you have one piece of advice that you’d give to Vice President Biden in his preparations for meeting up against Paul Ryan in the Vice Presidential debate?”
Zerban: “Joe Biden is a much more experienced public servant than I am and … it would be pretty presumptuous for me to try to give him any advice.”
That was a surprise.
Zerban may be modest, and he may really recoil from offering advice to the Vice President of the United States. But just about all the new interest in Zerban’s long-shot candidacy is fundamentally about Paul Ryan –- knowing him, challenging him, debating him and even beating him. That’s the role Zerban has in common with Biden, and it’s one he’ll need to embrace from now until November.