One of the hurdles for a challenger in a Republican district is to demonstrate that there's a real chance for victory. There is a lot of competition for campaign financing, to put it mildly, and decisions made in Washington, DC about which races to target can turn the contribution spigot on or off.
Zerban's pollster, Paul Maslin, says in a memo that Zerban "is well-positioned to give incumbent Paul Ryan the toughest fight of his career, with a very good chance to upset him."
From Maslin's memo:
Ryan’s favorable rating has declined to 54% positive, his job rating is 55% and his reelect is 54%—all this before the beginning of an active campaign against Ryan. When voters hear positive information about Rob Zerban and Paul Ryan, Ryan’s support weakens further to 52%. Rob Zerban’s description receives a better than 3 to 1 positive reaction.The memo, of course, puts things in the most favorable light for Zerban. The poll doesn't reflect the fact, for example, that Ryan has millions of dollars in the bank, so people will hear his message many more times than Zerban's, unless this race becomes a cause celebre among Dems.
And, after respondents hear one additional paragraph description linking Ryan to the Republican leadership in Congress and describing his authorship of the House budget plan, his support falls below 50% and his favorable rating becomes like Obama’s and Walker’s—dead even at 46% positive and 46% negative. And... Rob Zerban trails Ryan by only six points after this very brief exposition of Ryan’s signature idea, 49-43%, with undecideds holding nearly unanimously negative views of Congress in general and more than 80% saying they have either a negative or neutral feeling toward Ryan at the end of the poll.
That's the challenge for Zerban's campaign. He's clearly the most serious challenger Ryan has had in years, and Ryan's plan to get rid of Medicare and replace it with a voucher system may make him vulnerable. Then there's the national climate; people are fed up with a do-nothing Congress. Are voters in the 1st Congressional District fed up with Ryan?
This will be a race to watch, and Zerban's doing what he needs to do now to get people to pay attention. It's not too close to call yet, but it is too early to tell.