- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan is the only Republican who can unify the GOP in a fractured House, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said Friday.

Johnson said at a luncheon hosted by Wispolitics.com that he didn’t know if Ryan is interested in running for the leadership post, but that he sent him a text saying he was praying for him.

“He is the one person who could really unify, certainly, our conference in the House,” Johnson said. He later told reporters that there may be others who could do it, but that Ryan is the “consensus choice.”

“Other may be able to step up to the plate and forge that consensus, but we already know Paul has already forged it,” Johnson said.

Ryan has repeatedly said he is not running for speaker after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s surprise decision to withdraw his bid. Republicans are pressuring Ryan to reconsider, saying he can bridge the gap between tea party conservatives and others in the caucus.

Johnson said if Ryan realizes that no one else can unite Republicans, he may choose to do it. Being speaker would be difficult for Ryan, given the time and travel demands of the job and the fact that Ryan has a young family in Janesville, Johnson said.

“I can’t think of somebody in a leadership role better than Paul Ryan,” Johnson said.

But Johnson said Ryan shouldn’t be forced to make a rash decision.

“I hope he doesn’t make the decision too soon because I want to make sure he gets the commitment of every member to support him as leader,” Johnson said.

In response to a question during the lunch, Johnson dismissed polls that show him trailing Democrat Russ Feingold more than a year before the 2016 election as “completely meaningless.”

A Marquette University Law School poll released last month showed Feingold leading Johnson by 14 points.

“Does anyone think this isn’t going to be a razor-thin margin? It just is,” Johnson said.

Johnson also likened himself to George Washington when the moderator said Johnson seemed like he was reluctantly running for a second term.

“One thing I always liked about George Washington, he didn’t always want to do the job,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he wanted to run again because he cares deeply about the country.

“I actually feel pretty good about this race because I’ve got confidence in Wisconsinites valuing people of integrity,” Johnson said. He said Feingold, who served 18 years in the Senate before losing to Johnson in 2010, covets returning to office because “he’s part of the elites.”

Johnson’s campaign spokesman did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP

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