House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, in a navy-blue golf shirt and khaki shorts, made the rounds here at Serbian Fest over the weekend, shaking hands with burly older men in aprons as they poured beer and sliced fresh cuts of pork. Every selfie request was granted and every exchange was a variation of six degrees of separation, with the Wisconsin Republican seeming to know each person’s uncle or neighbor.
“Paul Ryan being Paul Ryan,” said local business owner David Peters, 59, looking on Saturday as he stood in the parking lot of St. George Serbian Orthodox Church. “I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
Days before his congressional primary Tuesday, Ryan wholeheartedly agreed.
“Wisconsin Republicans are good at sniffing out interlopers,” he said in an interview when asked about his challenger, Paul Nehlen, who has drawn outside support from several right-wing personalities.
“These tactics that they’re employing, which are basically scam PACs and hoax campaigns, inventing myths like I’m for open borders and the rest, just don’t really fly,” Ryan said, sitting at a picnic table as a nearby musician plucked classic rock tunes on an acoustic guitar. “It’s unnerving to people because it’s not how we treat each other in Wisconsin.”
What makes Tuesday’s contest notable — if not competitive, according to the polls — is Donald Trump. The Republican presidential nominee has in recent weeks lifted Nehlen from obscurity by praising him on Twitter and vacillated dramatically before endorsing Ryan in muted remarks Friday at a rally in Green Bay, Wis.
Ryan said he has not connected with Trump since the mogul endorsed him.
“Haven’t spoken to him,” Ryan said Saturday, a day after the endorsement. “I was at the cancer Relay for Life in Kenosha, so I just heard about it.”
Ryan added that he told his spokesman that evening to tell any inquiring reporters that he “appreciates the gesture and I’m focused on winning the endorsement of my constituents, my employers here in the First District.”
The jolt of intrigue has given the race’s final lap a somewhat nationalized feel. Firebrands such as commentator Ann Coulter have flown to this corner of southeastern Wisconsin to stump for Nehlen, while former Alaska governor Sarah Palin has plugged his bid on Facebook, all with the quixotic hope that he could score a primary upset similar to the one that defeated then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) two years ago.
SOURCE: Robert Costa
The Washington Post