Can Challenger Defeat Paul Ryan?
Delavan businessman Paul Nehlen has Sarah Palin’s backing in bid for Ryan’s congressional seat.
It’s a 1st Congressional District cage match between Congressman Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and Tea Party princess. In other election years, you’d have to make stuff like that up.
Palin told CNN that, because Ryan initially said he “wasn’t ready” to endorse Donald Trump as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, the U.S. House speaker and Janesville native should lose the Aug. 9 primary to his unknown challenger, Delavan businessman and inventor Paul Nehlen.
Palin said Ryan should be “Cantored” – a reference to Eric Cantor, the former U.S. House majority leader from Virginia who lost a primary to an unknown Tea Party-fueled challenger, David Brat, in 2014.
First: When was the last time an incumbent U.S. House member from Wisconsin lost to someone from their party? An unofficial historical review of more than 90 U.S. House members who represented Wisconsin districts since 1900 suggests that may not have happened since 1946 — 70 years ago.
Second: how popular is Ryan in the southeast Wisconsin district he has represented since 1999? He was re-elected in 2014 with 63 percent of the vote; in 2012, 54 percent; in 2010, 68 percent; and in 2008, 64 percent. According to a May 9-10 Remington Research Group poll reported by Wispolitics.com, Ryan had a 78 percent to 14 percent lead over Nehlen among likely Republican primary voters,
In the March Marquette Law School Poll, 1st District registered Republicans gave Ryan a favorable rating of 81 percent to 12 percent, said pollster Charles Franklin. In that March 24-28 poll, 1st District registered Democrats rated him unfavorably by a margin of 31 percent favorable to 55 unfavorable.
In that same Marquette survey, 1st District Republican likely voters gave Ryan a slightly higher approval rating – 84 percent to 9 percent. Likely Democratic voters in the 1st District had a 65 percent to 22 percent unfavorable opinion of their congressman.
Franklin, who oversees the Marquette poll, said those numbers suggest that Ryan is not likely to be Cantored. Ryan’s poll favorability numbers do not “seem to indicate vulnerability by the usual standards,” Franklin said. “He is extremely positively viewed.”
Also, Franklin said, the 1st District is not a “special stronghold” of support for Trump. In the April primary, Trump was supported by 32 percent of Republican voters – slightly less than his statewide total of 35 percent.
One more factor, Franklin said: “Unlike Cantor, Ryan is not being caught by surprise. Indeed, the high coverage of Palin and others’ involvement in the race may mobilize Nehlen supporters, but it will also likely alert and mobilize Ryan supporters.”
Franklin saw only one wild card that could threaten Ryan, “a low turnout August primary on the heels of an unpredictable GOP national convention.” Ryan is scheduled to chair the Republican National Convention July 18-21 in Cleveland.
Nehlen needs all the help he can get running against the top elected GOP official in Washington. Nehlen, who told MSNBC last week he “welcomed” Palin’s endorsement, has a May 27 fund-raising event scheduled with conservative author Michelle Malkin in Pleasant Prairie.
Nehlen’s campaign Website summarizes his themes this way: “Nehlen will reclaim Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District for We the People, put an end to Paul Ryan’s cronyism and corruption, and work hard to secure our borders and ensure enforcement of existing immigration laws.” He also opposes Ryan on trade issues.
“Paul Ryan doesn’t have the solution because he’s not a business guy,” Nehlen told MSNBC. “Paul Ryan’s been a career politician.”
But Ryan told Janesville radio talk-show host Stan Milam he isn’t worried about Palin’s call for his political exile. “I’m doing just fine … I’m not sweating that stuff.”