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This Man Wants To Debate Paul Ryan More Than Joe Biden Does

Rob Zerban, Paul Ryan's congressional challenger, is down in Danville to counter-program his debate.

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DANVILLE, Ky. — Paul Ryan has two opponents here in Danville. One is the vice president, Joe Biden, his adversary in tonight's debate. The other is Rob Zerban, who's running for his Congressional seat, and who — despite repeated attempts — won't have the opportunity to debate Ryan.

Zerban, 44, who owned two catering companies and was a Kenosha County Board Supervisor, and his team have been around the Centre College campus all day, giving interviews. Zerban appeared on MSNBC twice today — once on Chuck Todd's "Daily Rundown," and then again on "Hardball" with Chris Matthews. He's been talking to CNN, ABC, Politico, and others, he told BuzzFeed during an interview in Olin Hall on the Centre College campus (he's not credentialed and can't get into the debate hall.)

Zerban says he's raised about $2 million for his campaign, which is far more than Ryan's last opponent. He's been running television ads against Ryan. That, plus the media interest, is the biggest benefit of running against the most high-profile congressional candidate in the country — even if Zerban is very likely to lose.

"He's really been an absentee candidate" in Wisconsin's 1st District, Zerban said. "If you want to run for both offices, fulfill the duties associated with it. And one of those is to come back to the district and debate the issues."

Zerban said that the Ryan side had deflected the idea of doing a debate with him.

"They kept pushing back saying, 'let's wait till after the primary, we don't know if he's gonna win,' even though he didn't have a challenger," Zerban said. "He's always debated his opponents in the past."

"I would have no clue," how to get inside Ryan's head, Zerban said. But "If i were Joe Biden I would tell him to focus on his out-of-touch budget," as well as his stances on health care and women's issues.

Zerban has his stance as the anti-Paul Ryan all planned out. And he believes the voters in the district will be receptive — he cited interactions with an elderly man and other people in his church who'd told him, he said, that they were disgusted with Ryan's budget.

"I know it's anecdotal, but they get to decide who their representative is," Zerban said. "Not the people who fund his campaign with their special interest money."

Zerban is more in the spotlight than anyone Ryan's faced for years, but even his own internal polls show him eight points behind. Ryan has undeniable star power and the added bonus of being someone people will see twice on the ballot.

Still, the fight goes on. Asked what he was doing the rest of the night, Zerban and his campaign manager Al Benninghof said, "More interviews."

Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.

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