JANESVILLE, Wis. — In an abandoned parking lot on the outskirts of Paul Ryan’s hometown, Paul Nehlen railed against what he called the House speaker’s “open borders policies” and claimed Ryan is “giving American jobs to foreigners.”
Attendance at the Wednesday evening rally was sparse: about two-dozen supporters, at least half of them campaign volunteers or staffers, and three who told POLITICO they weren’t even from the southeast Wisconsin district.
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Yet Nehlen, Ryan’s little-known, long-shot primary challenger, has managed to generate a wave of national political attention leading up to Tuesday’s election, thanks to a recent nod from his idol and campaign inspiration, Donald Trump. Earlier this week, the GOP nominee pointedly refused to endorse Ryan and went out of his way to compliment Nehlen’s campaign.
“I was on CNN last night and this morning! MSNBC. Lot of shows,” the 47-year-old longtime factory manager exclaimed in Trump-like fashion to the small crowd. “It’s going to be full-court press.” A yellow construction dump truck behind him was painted with, “Dump Paul Ryan” and “Get the dirt on Ryan.”
It turns out that Ryan — who’s been plagued by Trump on Capitol Hill for the better part of a year — can’t even avoid the guy in his own backyard. Ryan may be one of the most popular figures in the Republican Party, but Nehlen, a remarkably well-financed gadfly running a mini-version of the real estate tycoon’s campaign, is forcing the House speaker and nine-term congressman to have to defend himself in a primary for the first time in years.
Like Trump, Nehlen calls himself a “builder” and a “businessman,” though the local press has questioned his résumé. He wants to build a wall to stop immigration and harps on trade deals traditionally backed by Republicans. And he’s doing his darnedest …