- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

JANESVILLE, Wis. (AP) - House Speaker Paul Ryan’s underdog challenger was trying to capitalize Wednesday on a burst of attention after Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump complimented him and said he wasn’t ready to endorse Ryan just days before the GOP primary.

Paul Nehlen is making a push to unseat Ryan in Tuesday’s election, despite being outspent 17-to-1, having no local endorsements of note and Ryan’s high favorability ratings in his southeastern Wisconsin district.

Ryan has been trying to campaign without engaging with Nehlen. Ryan is hoping to avoid a surprise defeat like Eric Cantor suffered in 2014, when the House majority leader lost a Republican primary to a little-known tea party challenger Dave Brat.

While lacking the endorsements Ryan enjoys - including the National Rifle Association, Wisconsin Right to Life, all four Republican sheriffs in his congressional district and 16 GOP state lawmakers - Nehlen has the backing of some nationally known conservatives.

Nehlen has the support of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and, on Wednesday, was campaigning in Kenosha with former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter was coming to Wisconsin to campaign with Nehlen on Saturday, and another conservative commentator, Michelle Malkin, campaigned for Nehlen at a Memorial Day rally.

And when it came to endorsing Ryan, Trump recently said: “I’m not there right now.”

Nehlen made a splash in his first political campaign with a web video showing him riding a Harley Davidson motorcycle, showing his tattooed arms. He challenged Ryan to an arm wrestling match.

Nehlen has criticized Ryan as being weak on border security and for supporting free trade deals. Last month, Nehlen held a rally in front of Ryan’s home and called for him to build a wall along the U.S. border. If he didn’t, Nehlen said, he should tear down the fence around his house.

Ryan has largely tried to downplay the challenge. There have been no debates and Ryan has not mentioned Nehlen in his television ads. Ryan has outraised Nehlen $14.9 million to $868,000 through July 20. Ryan’s favorability rating among Republicans in his congressional district was at 84 percent in June and July, based on Marquette University Law School polls.

An Ohio native, Nehlen moved to Wisconsin eight years ago for his job as an executive with a water filtration company.

Ryan was born and raised in Janesville and has been elected to Congress since 1998. He became speaker last fall and has history on his side - no House speaker in modern political history has lost a primary. And unlike Cantor, who was accused of not keeping close ties with his district, Ryan returns home to Janesville every weekend.

“I’m really not that concerned about this simply from the fact I think the people here in the 1st District know who I am, what I do, and how and why I fight for them,” Ryan said in a June interview. “I don’t really stress this stuff too much. I’ve had primary opponents before.”


Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP and find more of his work at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/scott-bauer

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