Paul Ryan downplays primary on day before election

Posted at 5:08 PM, Aug 08, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-08 20:17:30-04

RACINE, Wis. (AP) -- If House Speaker Paul Ryan was the least bit concerned about a political newcomer trying to snatch the Republican nomination for his seat, he didn't show it Monday.

During two events in his southeastern Wisconsin congressional district, Ryan didn't make a single reference to Paul Nehlen, his opponent in Tuesday's primary election.

Instead of traditional campaign rallies or get-out-the-vote pushes on the eve of the election, Ryan toured two businesses. And while he took questions from workers, no one asked him about Nehlen and Ryan never mentioned his name.

Ryan, who is heavily favored, is working to avoid becoming the first House speaker in modern political history to lose a primary.

Most of the workers' questions were focused on policy, not politics. But a worker at Ocenco in Pleasant Prairie asked Ryan how Donald Trump could win the presidential election if he can't win the support of at least 30 percent of Latino voters, and if Trump couldn't be replaced by someone like the House speaker.

"He won the votes fair and square," Ryan said. "He won more votes than anybody else, enough votes to win the nomination."

Ryan referred to Trump by name only once, when defending the need for free trade agreements. That's been an area of disagreement between Ryan and Trump.

Trump last week praised Nehlen, before ultimately endorsing Ryan in the primary.

The first question he got was about Wisconsin's beloved Green Bay Packers, and Ryan didn't miss a chance to pander to the home state audience at A&E Tools in Racine.

"You were at Packers training camp," a worker said. "What do you think the Packers chances are?"

"I'm really excited about this," Ryan said to cheers from the workers. "This is one of the coolest things I've ever done in my life. How many are Packers fans? Those are the people I'm going to answer questions from."

Ryan didn't take questions from reporters at either stop.

Ryan's approval rating among Republicans in his district was in the mid-80s in polls this summer by the Marquette University Law School, and he has a 17-to-1 financial advantage over Nehlen that has allowed him to blast the airwaves with television ads.

Nehlen, who like Trump favors building a wall along the United States' southern border, argues that Ryan is weak on border security and is putting national security at risk by not doing more to stop illegal immigration. In an online video he touted Monday called "One Vote to Save America," Nehlen tried to tap into voters' fears about border security, illegal immigration and crime.

Nehlen also tried to win over blue collar voters, arguing against free trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership that he says is moving American jobs overseas.

"He doesn't represent the people of Wisconsin," Nehlen said of Ryan in his video. "He represents Wall Street donors. He is not merely a symptom of the corrupt and broken system, he is the corrupt and broken system."

He has also encouraged Democrats to cross over and vote for him, which is possible in Wisconsin's open primary. However, voters who do so can't vote in any other Democratic races.

An Ohio native, Nehlen moved to Wisconsin for work in 2008. He lives in Delavan and works as senior vice president of operations at Neptune Benson, an international manufacturer of water-filtration products, and owns a consulting firm.