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SPECIAL SECTION

No debate with Democratic opponent, Rep. Ryan says

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Rep. Paul Ryan is speaker of the House of Representatives, one of the most powerful positions in the country, but he still has to run for re-election.

Ryan's campaign announced Friday morning that he would forego one election tradition: a debate.

The announcement said Ryan would not debate his Democratic opponent in the Nov. 8 elections, Ryan Solen.

Solen had made the issue of a debate a major part of his campaign, going so far as to schedule one for Saturday close to Janesville and inviting Ryan to come.

“Voters in the 1st Congressional District know who Paul is, and they know what he stands for,” said Ryan's campaign spokesman, Zack Roday, in a prepared statement Friday morning. “They see him in their communities and know that he is always working on their behalf. Paul will be campaigning in the 1st District in the final week of the election season, but he will not be participating in a debate.”

Solen had invited Ryan to debate at Blackhawk Technical College, giving Ryan until 5 p.m. Friday to respond.

Ryan never responded directly to the Solen campaign, the campaign said in a bitterly worded statement.

“This is not how the people of Wisconsin should be represented. It is, however, a perfect example of how Congress has maintained a sub-teen approval rating while managing such a high re-election rate,” Solen said in the statement.

“Ultimately, Paul Ryan didn't decide to forgo debate because he doesn't need to. He chose not to debate because he is afraid of me,” Solen's statement reads. “He is afraid of anyone not motivated by money because money is the only political language he knows.”

“… His agenda has nothing definitive except continued demonstration that he is not capable of rising above partisan or corporate interests. He has sold his loyalty to the highest bidder,” Solen said.

Solen announced previously he will speak at Blackhawk Tech at 2 p.m. Saturday, whether Ryan shows up or not.

Solen had challenged Ryan to debate soon after the August primary election, but Ryan never responded.

The Gazette and WCLO/WJVL radio had extended their own offer to Ryan to host a debate, as well.

Before the Ryan campaign announcement Friday, Solen's campaign issued the latest in a series of statements bemoaning Ryan's lack of responses:

“Aside from the year (2012) of his failed run for vice president, Paul Ryan has debated his Democratic opponent every election cycle. This is the first election since he has been speaker; does he consider himself too good to even respond to Ryan Solen and the constituents of Wisconsin's 1st Congressional District that he calls his bosses?”

After The Gazette informed Solen's press secretary, Lauren Young, of Ryan's statement, she responded with one of her own, saying she had not heard anything directly from the Ryan campaign:

“We were hoping to share our views and learn more about Paul Ryan's views, which he hasn't been sharing with the constituents of the 1st Congressional District. He hasn't been in Wisconsin very much and is campaigning out of state for other Republicans and seems to be coasting on his name recognition and incumbency status,” Young wrote.

Name recognition and incumbency are mighty election weapons, studies show. Challengers usually struggle to overcome them. A debate would have helped Solen in that respect, as it likely would have garnered national attention.

Ryan has debated Democratic opponents in the past. He even debated Janesville's Dr. Jeff Thomas in the elections of 2000 through 2006, even though Ryan's victories were well in hand. He won with at least 63 percent of the vote each time.

Ryan even picked up Thomas to drive him to a debate on at least one occasion.

Similar to 2012, Ryan holds a high-profile position that demands much time to campaign outside the 1st District.

House speakers traditionally have worked hard to get fellow party members elected, and Ryan has been no exception, making numerous appearances on behalf of his fellow House Republicans this fall.

Ryan has been campaigning for House members in California this week, for example.

Ryan would lose his job as speaker if the Republicans lose the House.

Even if the GOP retains control, Ryan faces opposition from pro-Trump Republicans who are unhappy with how the speaker reacted to the release of Trump's 2005 “Access Hollywood” bus comments, and/or see him as too moderate.

Speakers who campaign for their members tend to earn loyalty from those members, and Ryan has campaigned for both moderate and hard-line Republicans this year.

Contrary to Solen's comments, Ryan likely sees no political downside to turning down a debate. He can run TV ads with no concern for cost; his campaign had $9.5 million cash on hand as of Oct. 19, according to the Federal Election Commission. Solen had $7,422, as of the same date.

Solen's campaign has said contributions and notes of support came in from supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump who were angry with Ryan for his most recent statements in which he distanced himself from Trump, and from Republicans who think Ryan should have more firmly renounced Trump.

Solen spokeswoman Young sought to gain advantage from that dynamic Friday, tweeting a thank-you to Trump for debating Hillary Clinton and accusing Ryan of abandoning a debate to “fundraise out of state.”

Others running for the 1st Congressional District seat on the Nov. 8 ballot are two Janesville men, Jason Lebeck, a Libertarian, and Spencer Zimmerman, a Trump Conservative. Neither Ryan nor Solen have mentioned them in relation to a debate.

Meanwhile, Paul Nehlen of the town of Delavan, whom Ryan trounced in the Republican primary and who has set up a super PAC to support Trump, has announced he is running for speaker.

The speaker of the House is not required to be a House member, but Nehlen, who is virtual unknown politically, has little chance.



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