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Ryan Easily Fends Off Primary Challenger in Wisconsin

Speaker defeats newcomer Paul Nehlen, who had tried to tie himself to Trump

 House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. ( Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
 House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. ( Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

Sarah Palin’s May prediction that Speaker Paul D. Ryan would be “Cantored” proved way off Tuesday. Ryan handily defeated his primary opponent in Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district. 

Paul Nehlen’s long-shot bid to oust Ryan was just that — a long shot. The Associated Press called the race in favor of Ryan at about 9:30 p.m. Eastern time, shortly after polls closed in Wisconsin. Ryan won with 85 percent of the vote over Nehlen’s 16 percent.  

[A Crowded Primary Race: One Speaker, One Newcomer and Trump]

Although the race was far from competitive, it drew national attention because of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s decision to compliment Nehlen and initially withhold his support for Ryan. Trump ultimately did endorse Ryan, despite the speaker never having asked for the nominee’s support in his primary. 

Palin’s prediction that Ryan would be “Cantored” — a reference to the 2014 primary defeat of then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by economics professor David Brat — came after Trump had won enough primaries to reach the delegate total needed to clinch the nomination, and Ryan initially declined to endorse him.  Trump’s brief foray into Ryan’s race appeared to be payback for that move.

With the support of some well-known conservatives like Palin, Phyllis Schlafly and Ann Coulter, Nehlen did raise more than $1 million for the race, a significant amount for a political newcomer. But his war chest was still small in comparison to Ryan’s.

In this cycle, Ryan’s campaign spent more than $8 million through the pre-primary reporting period that ended July 20, compared to the nearly $700,000 Nehlen’s campaign spent in the same period. 

The speaker’s blowout win is a sign anti-establishment fervor that helped propel Trump to the nomination has not caught fire in down-ballot races. Only two incumbent Republican House members — Reps. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas — have lost so far in the 2016 primary season. 

In November, Ryan will face former Army captain Ryan Solen, who beat plumbing engineer Tom Breu by 18 points in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Ryan is expected to easily win that contest too. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates the race as Safe Republican. 

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