Ryan faces ques­tions on re­turn to Wis­con­sin

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - SCOTT BAUER

MUKWONAGO, Wis. — With a dys­func­tional Congress on re­cess, House Speaker Paul Ryan has turned his fo­cus back home, tour­ing flood-dam­aged ar­eas and vis­it­ing busi­nesses in Wis­con­sin. But he can’t es­cape the ques­tions about why Repub­li­cans in charge of Wash­ing­ton aren’t de­liv­er­ing.

Though he has won re-elec­tion eas­ily for years, Ryan faces the prospect of chal­lenges from left and right and an en­er­gized Demo­cratic base in next year’s midterm elec­tions.

“We have a ma­jor­ity in the House and Senate and it feels like noth­ing’s get­ting done,” 32- year- old James Hulsey said just be­fore Ryan re­cently toured his work­place.

Sens­ing the angst, Ryan has been much more vis­i­ble in his south­east Wis­con­sin dis­trict as Repub­li­cans failed to de­liver on their years­long prom­ise to scrap the 2010 health care law, and as new polling num­bers show the speaker is less pop­u­lar among Repub­li­cans in Wis­con­sin than Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Trump won Wis­con­sin by less than a per­cent­age point, but he car­ried Ryan’s dis­trict by 10 points.

In the re­main­ing months of the year, Ryan and the Repub­li­can­led Congress are de­ter­mined to de­liver ma­jor leg­is­la­tion, elu­sive so far, and the top pri­or­ity is over­haul­ing the na­tion’s tax code. Fail­ure to pro­duce could cost Repub­li­cans their House ma­jor­ity in the 2018 midterms and, for Ryan, his job as speaker and Repub­li­can leader.

“This is the third time in 100 years we’ve had this align­ment of gov­ern­ment that we’ve got to get it done or else I [am] re­ally wor­ried our coun­try will con­tinue down a bad path,” Ryan said af­ter his tour of the wire man­u­fac­turer Banker Wire in Mukwonago.

He later told the Wis­con­sin State Jour­nal, “If we don’t do our job, we will de­press turnout. I am frus­trated as well.”

Repub­li­can Keith Ket­zler, 62, wor­ries that the GOP will pay po­lit­i­cally next year. Democrats need to flip 24 seats to re­gain con­trol.

“Every­body that voted Repub­li­can is get­ting very frus­trated,” Ket­zler said, af­ter prod­ding Ryan about why Congress hasn’t achieved more. “Peo­ple crossed the line last time, but they’re not go­ing to stay crossed if they don’t get things done.”

Ryan an­gered some con­ser­va­tives dur­ing the cam­paign with com­ments crit­i­cal of Trump. But in the first six months of Trump’s term, Ryan has been far less crit­i­cal of the pres­i­dent than other Repub­li­can law­mak­ers who have chal­lenged a num­ber of Trump moves, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent’s crit­i­cism of At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, a former se­na­tor.

Ryan’s Repub­li­can pri­mary chal­lenger last year, Paul Nehlen, ini­tially won the back­ing of then- can­di­date Trump, who later switched to Ryan. Ryan beat Nehlen by 70 per­cent­age points in the pri­mary. But Nehlen, who is run­ning again, thinks 2018 will be more dif­fi­cult for Ryan, ar­gu­ing that he hasn’t done enough to ap­pease Trump sup­port­ers.

“Pres­i­dent Trump has given Paul Ryan way more op­por­tu­ni­ties to stand up and back him, and what he has done is re­ally un­der­mine him,” Nehlen said.

Beat­ing Ryan will not be easy.

No Demo­crat has rep­re­sented the dis­trict since 1995. Ryan has cruised to re-elec­tion ever since he joined Congress in 1999 — win­ning by 35 per­cent­age points last year. He has $11.5 mil­lion in the bank and is a fa­mil­iar face in Janesville, where he was born and raised and still lives with his wife and three chil­dren.

Democrats are pin­ning their hopes on Randy Bryce, an Army veteran and union iron worker. He ap­pears to have walked out of Hol­ly­wood cen­tral cast­ing — com­plete with a dark mus­tache, thick bi­ceps, faded blue jeans and a prom­ise to fight for the work­ing man. Bryce is try­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on dis­en­chant­ment over Ryan’s role in the health care bill as he mounts his cam­paign.

Bryce gen­er­ated ex­cite­ment among Democrats both in Wis­con­sin and na­tion­ally for his an­nounce­ment video in June that has now been viewed more than 550,000 times. It be­gins with a clip of Trump prais­ing Ryan’s at­tempts to undo the Pa­tient Pro­tec­tion and Af­ford­able Care Act and then shows Bryce get­ting emo­tional as his mother de­tails her strug­gle with mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis.

“You can come work the iron,” the hard­hat-wear­ing Bryce chal­lenges Ryan, “and I’ll go to D.C.”

Bryce raised $430,000 in the first two weeks af­ter the spot ran.

Ryan has tried to shift the con­ver­sa­tion from the col­lapse of the GOP health care ef­fort and to­ward tax over­hauls and the news that Tai­wanese iPhone man­u­fac­turer Fox­conn plans to in­vest $10 bil­lion in a fac­tory in his con­gres­sional dis­trict that could em­ploy 13,000 peo­ple. Ryan launched a se­ries of cam­paign- style on­line ads high­light­ing the news that the plant was com­ing near aban­doned au­to­mo­bile fac­to­ries in his home­town of Janesville and nearby Kenosha.

But Ryan’s in­volve­ment isn’t resonating with all the vot­ers in his dis­trict.

“Paul Ryan? I don’t know what he’s done for it,” said Repub­li­can voter Jeff Lunde of Ryan’s role in the Fox­conn deal. “They’re all work­ing on this stupid health care crap.”

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