Politics

Paul Ryan Gets Primaried

Little-known Wisconsin businessman hopes to be the Dave Brat of 2016

A virtually unknown Wisconsin businessman will attempt to be this year’s David Brat, the upstart who shocked the political world in 2014 and knocked off the sitting House majority leader in the Republican primary.

Paul Nehlen next week will formally kick off his campaign to unseat House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis. A onetime Ryan supporter, Nehlen said he became dismayed after his Congressman voted to give President Obama the ability to negotiate a massive trade pact with Pacific Rim countries. He said he grew more frustrated by Ryan’s vote for a budget that funds Obama’s domestic priorities.

“I arguably was Paul Ryan’s biggest supporter in this district,” he told LifeZette, recalling that he bought copies of the congressman’s book and gave them to friends. “I pounded signs. I made phone calls. I got people out to vote for the things that Paul Ryan said were his top priority,” he said. “When the Trade Promotion Authority came out, the gloves came off. I was absolutely — I just couldn’t believe it. The level of betrayal was indescribable.”

Beyond trade, Nehlen said his priorities would be enforcing immigration law and stopping Ryan’s “cronyism and corruption,” which he defines as doing the bidding of globalists in the Washington area who account for the bulk of the speaker’s campaign contributions, despite promises he made to people in the district.

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Nehlen has an entrepreneur’s background. He started a manufacturing plant in Delaware out of high school and ran oversees operations for a Fortune 500 company. Currently senior vice president of operations for a water filtration and disinfection technologies company, he holds several patents on devices he has invented. At one point, he was responsible for closing most of the operations of a manufacturing facility in Mexico and opening a new plant in Georgia.

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Nehlen will need every bit of that entrepreneurial spirit in challenging Ryan, who will have a commanding advantage in the Aug. 9 primary. Ryan had $5.3 million in his campaign account at the end of last year. And as the sitting speaker, he will have no trouble adding to that cushion. Since winning his first House race in 1998, Ryan has been re-elected every two years, usually by wide margins.

But Nehlen said he takes inspiration from Brat, whose victory sent shockwaves through the Republican Establishment.

“This is a classic David and Goliath situation,” he said. “Goliath looks like a winner. But David can do it every day of the week.”

[lz_table title=”Paul Ryan’s Electoral Record” source=”Federal Election Commission”]Year,Vote percentage
1998,57%
2000,67%
2002,67%
2004,65%
2006,63%
2008,64%
2010,68%
2012,55%
2014,63%
[/lz_table]

Nehlen likely will get help from grassroots conservatives across the country who are dissatisfied with the performance of Congress after two sweeping midterm victories by the GOP.

“I haven’t even seen the challenger yet, and I’m already ready to cut a $100 check from my personal account,” said William Gheen, president of the Americans for Legal Immigration political action committee.

Gheen, who named his list of targeted Republican incumbents the “Cantor List” after the fallen Virginia congressman, said Nehlen can win if he makes sure voters understand that he — unlike Ryan — would take a hard line against illegal immigration. It takes only a little bit of money to make that happen, he said.

“Eric Cantor spent more on steakhouses than our candidate spent overall,” he said.

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Ryan remains a popular figure among his Republican colleagues in the House. So far, he has prevented the kind of revolt from his conservative flank that toppled former Speaker John Boehner. But back home in the First District — a Republican-leaning swath of communities in the southeastern corner of the state — there are signs of discontent.

At a rally for GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump this week in the speaker’s hometown of Janesville, the mention of Ryan’s name drew a smattering of boos from the crowd, according to the Washington Examiner.

Nehlen said he can feel the discontentment around the district. “This isn’t a spark,” he said. “This is a bolt of lightning coming back.”

Nehlen said he was looking around for someone to step up and came forward when no one else did. He said he never would have done so if Ryan had kept his promises to the district.

“I believed in him,” he said. “But he put the gas in my tank” to oppose him.

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