OAK CREEK — Dem Randy Bryce on Friday knocked his Republican opponent over “nasty, horrible attack ads” levied against him from a national conservative group, as he criticized Bryan Steil’s campaign for “stooping low” to target him.

But Steil countered his campaign has run “positive ads on the issues” highlighting the UW regent’s priorities in the pair’s first debate.

“I think it’s a bit ironic that an individual whose ads received three pinocchios in the Washington Post for being dishonest then claims frustration with dishonest ads,” he said. “I’ve never heard one complaint about an ad that I’ve run.”

The 1st CD debate, which was hosted by WisconsinEye and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, drew a large, rowdy crowd as viewers spilled into the Oak Creek City Council chambers and an additional overflow room. The crowd regularly clapped and yelled out support for their respective candidates, punctuating most answers Bryce or Steil gave with applause and cheers.

Bryce used his opening statement to take issue with the ads from the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is aligned with House GOP leadership and regularly returned to the topic during the course of the event. One recent CLF spot slammed Bryce as a “deadbeat” dad over his delinquent child support payments, prompting his ex-wife, Faye Boudreaux, to write a letter defending him this week and calling for the “attacks” to stop.

In separate media availabilities after the event, Steil said he’s “not focused on all the third-party noise.”

“I’m focused on what I control,” he said. “What I’m doing is putting out a positive message about how we’re going to grow the economy and what policies we need to put in place to continue this econ growth that I’m seeing.”

Meanwhile, Bryce called on Steil to advocate for the negative ads against him to end.

“If he really wants to run a positive campaign that discusses issues, have Paul Ryan, the person that is responsible for these ads, take them down, and let’s talk about issues,” Bryce told reporters after the debate.

During the debate, Steil also repeatedly knocked Bryce for his support of the single-payer “Medicare for All” health care plan. He also cited estimates that have shown it could cost $32.6 trillion over 10 years.

Steil also said he doesn’t support cuts to Social Security and Medicare for seniors who are retired or “approaching retirement age.”

“Social Security is a promise we made to seniors, so is Medicare,” he said. “It’s a promise we made to seniors. It’s a promise we need to keep.”

But he said there’s a need to “analyze the spending side” of the federal government’s budget, likening it to his time at the Board of Regents “holding the line on tuition” by instituting a freeze across the UW System schools, saying the same approach should be taken in Washington, D.C.

Bryce, though, countered he favors a single-payer system because “it’s something that everybody is so deserving of.”

“We’re worth it. And we can’t do anything else unless we are healthy,” he said.

He also called on Steil to urge Gov. Scott Walker to drop the state’s lawsuit seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act in order to protect pre-existing conditions.

“If you can’t stand up to Gov. Walker and ask him now, how the heck are you going to go stand up to Donald Trump in Washington, D.C.?” he asked.

Steil didn’t respond. Asked later by WisPolitics.com about his thoughts on the lawsuit and whether he supports it, he repeatedly didn’t answer the question, saying instead he’s “focused on what I can control: policies to lower the cost of health care.”

Bryce repeatedly hit Steil over his background as an attorney for a manufacturer, alleging that Steil’s work lead to the outsourcing of American jobs. The attack was also the subject of a past ad Bryce’s campaign launched against Steil last month.

Painting Steil as a “millionaire” and “corporate attorney,” Bryce alleged Steil “made his money by sending good-paying jobs overseas.”

Steil at one point countered: “I can think of at least nine times where a law degree would’ve come in handy,” referencing the nine times Bryce has been arrested.

But Bryce noted his recent arrests have been because he was “standing up for people.” He was most recently arrested in March along with others for blocking traffic near Ryan’s Racine office. His previous arrests included operating under the influence in Michigan 20 years ago and in 1991 for marijuana possession and property damage.

Watch the debate.



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