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Wisconsin Democratic candidate Randy Bryce. Photo: Rob Groulx / Axios

Before Paul Ryan announced his retirement today, it was "unthinkable" for Democrat Randy Bryce to unseat him in Wisconsin's first district. Now, Bryce tells Axios he's hearing more voters say: "I voted for Ryan in the past and this time I’m voting for Bryce."

Why it matters: Ryan's GOP House seat hasn't been competitive since he was first elected in 1998. Although there are some Republicans rumored to run, like Wisconin's Speaker of the State Assembly Robin Vos, Bryce is now in a less unthinkable position. "We saw that same machine just get defeated in Pennsylvania, which is a more conservative area than Wisconsin," he said.

"It’s obvious there’s no fight left in him and I could see that for several months."
— Randy Bryce on Paul Ryan

Bryce's campaign has raised nearly $5 million since last June, which gives him an advantage over any other Republican candidate who might jump in this late. But the Congressional Leadership Fund, Ryan's super PAC, will likely put a lot of money behind whoever decides to run. "We’re not afraid of anybody," Bryce said, "and that’s made easier knowing so many people have our back."

The other side: "Speaker Ryan was in perfect shape to be re-elected by a significant margin, as he has been for the past twenty years," said Kevin Seifert, executive director of Team Ryan.

What's next: Knocking Republicans for their failed health care efforts, Bryce has always said he's running to "repeal and replace Paul Ryan." But it's more than that, he says. "It’s great that we have the repeal part down, which was definitely an uphill battle, but now we need to fight just as hard. It would be really horrible not to win now given how far we’ve come."

Go deeper

Read: Former Vice President Walter Mondale's last message

Photo courtesy of Mondale.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale wrote a farewell letter to his staff, sent upon his death on Monday, thanking them for years working together.

Dear Team,

Well my time has come. I am eager to rejoin Joan and Eleanor. Before I Go I wanted to let you know how much you mean to me. Never has a public servant had a better group of people working at their side!

Together we have accomplished so much and I know you will keep up the good fight.

Joe in the White House certainly helps.

I always knew it would be okay if I arrived some place and was greeted by one of you!

My best to all of you!

Fritz

Former Vice President Walter Mondale dies at 93

Walter Mondale, left, with former President Jimmy Carter in Jan. 2018 at the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota's campus in Minneapolis. Photo: Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via Getty Images

Walter Mondale, who transformed the role of U.S. vice president while serving under Jimmy Carter and was the Democratic nominee for president in 1984, died Monday at 93, according to a family spokesperson.

The big picture: President Biden, who was mentored by Mondale through the years, said in 2015 that the former vice president gave him a "roadmap" to successfully take on the job.

Scoop: U.S. ambassador refuses Kremlin push to leave Russia

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan. Photo: Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS via Getty Images

The United States ambassador to Russia is refusing to leave the country after the Kremlin "advised" him to return home following new Biden administration sanctions, two sources briefed on the situation tell Axios.

Why it matters: John Sullivan, a respected diplomat who President Biden has, so far, retained from the Trump era, is at the center of one of the most important early tests of Biden's resolve.

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