A well-known Republican in La Crosse is gaining national attention as he prepares for his upcoming race for Wisconsin's secretary of state.
The Republican State Leadership Committee just named Julian Bradley's race one of 14 to watch across the country this year.
Bradley's political career started right here in La Crosse. From joining the Republican Party 12 years ago to working on multiple campaign trails to becoming the vice chairmen of the 3rd Congressional District GOP, Bradley has seen it all. But now he has decided to run for Wisconsin's secretary of state.
Thirty-three-year-old Bradley was born in Baltimore.
"I moved here in 1992 when I was 11 years old, I went to Mount Calvary for sixth grade, Longfellow for seventh and eigth. I’m a proud graduate of Central High School class of '99,” said Bradley.
Although he is not a Wisconsin native, in his move to La Crosse Bradley said he found a home.
"It's a beautiful place, it's a friendly place and it's a very safe place,” said Bradley. "The Midwestern values seem to align and fit my values very well."
However, early on he realized his political values didn't match his mother's.
"She was a staunch Democrat, so we were debating politics one day and she said 'you sound like a Republican' and I said 'why would you say that,' but then I started to do the research on it and I found wow, I do sound like a Republican because I am,” said Bradley.
"Most African Americans are Democrats, not Republicans. And he is a Republican African American. That makes him very unique, frankly, in many respects,” said Joe Heim, a political science professor at UW-La Crosse.
From that moment on, Bradley jumped right into politics, and joined the Republican Party in 2002.
"When Bill Fien, who was the chair, left to run for political office, he actually moved up to be the chair of the political party, so I would suspect he was one of the first African American heads of a county party,” said Bradley.
Bradley has a long history of working behind the scenes on many local races, but now he is stepping out in front.
"When I was on a speaking tour in 2013, I'd have people ask me frequently, 'Why don't you run for office?' And I always answered the same way: 'I will run when I find some place I can make a positive impact,'” said Bradley.
Bradley thinks he has found that place. He is running for Wisconsin secretary of state facing Doug La Follette, who has been in office for more than three decades.
"It’s never easy to defeat any kind of incumbent, especially somebody with a famous last name that has been there for so long,” said Bradley.
Bradley won the primary election on Aug. 12 and is humbled to be representing a place he calls home.
“I am proud to, as just a candidate, to be an ambassador for western Wisconsin,” said Bradley.
“But if you look back and look at all sorts of statewide races, over the decades you will find very few people from western Wisconsin running,” said Heim.
Bradley started his campaign trail in January and hasn't looked back since. With only two months to go, he said he will keep moving forward.
“We just keep spreading statewide and talking to as many people as possible to let them know what we can do for the office,” said Bradley.
Wisconsin's secretary of state has three main duties: to be the keeper of the Great Seal of the State of Wisconsin, maintain the official state records of the legislature and governor and sit on the board of Commissioners of Public Lands.
La Follette has served nine terms as secretary of state. The officeholder is up for re-election every four years.