LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A Fayetteville pastor said Wednesday he's challenging a northwest Arkansas congressman in the Republican primary next year, and he has the support of a group formed by former staffers and volunteers from Bernie Sanders' Democratic presidential campaign.
Robb Ryerse announced he's seeking the Republican nomination for the 3rd District seat held by Rep. Steve Womack, who is running for a fifth term next year. Ryerse, 42, is co-pastor of the non-denominational church, Vintage Fellowship.
"I'm in this race because I want to be an independent Republican voice for the 3rd Congressional District," Ryerse said.
Ryerse is the first Republican backed by Brand New Congress, a group that's recruiting candidates to run against Democrats and Republicans in primaries next year. The group's platform includes a call to provide health care for all Americans through Medicare and to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Ryerse said he would have opposed the Republican health care bill that Womack and the rest of the state's all-GOP House delegation supported, and would have probably voted for the federal health overhaul in 2010. He also said he opposes President Donald Trump's proposal to build a wall along the border with Mexico and said a special prosecutor should be named to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Ryerse called himself a lifelong Republican, but said he voted for a third-party candidate in the November presidential election.
"The Republican Party used to be known as a party that was for people rather than against people," he said. "But lately it seems like we've become known for who we're against than who we're for."
Ryerse is the second candidate to announce a bid to unseat Womack, who has nearly $1.2 million cash on hand for his re-election bid. Joshua Mahony, the head of a scholarship fund, announced last week he is running as a Democrat for Womack's seat.
"While many are starting to focus on campaigns and elections, that is far from being at the forefront of the congressman's conversations," Beau Walker, Womack's campaign manager, said in a statement. "Congressman Womack is focused on his work representing the people of the Third District in Washington, DC and back home in Arkansas."