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Paul Ryan Fends Off Wisconsin Primary Opponent Who Flirted With Trump Train

Paul Ryan easily fended off a challenge in his primary race Tuesday against recent Wisconsin transplant Paul Nehlen.
Image: Speaker of the House Republican Paul Ryan
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill on July 7.MICHAEL REYNOLDS / EPA file

Paul Ryan easily fended off a challenge in his primary race Tuesday against recent Wisconsin transplant Paul Nehlen, who contested the House Speaker with the same positions and talking points espoused by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

"I am humbled and honored that Wisconsinites in the 1st Congressional District support my efforts to keep fighting on their behalf," Ryan said in a statement after winning. "Janna (his wife) and I are grateful to have the support of so many in southern Wisconsin, and we are truly thankful for all of their hard work."

Nehlen had little chance of posing a serious challenge to Ryan who has represented the first Congressional district in southeast Wisconsin for 16 years, but his candidacy gained legitimacy after Trump praised him on the campaign trail and refused, for a time, to back Ryan.

At 10:15 p.m. ET, with 66 percent of precincts reporting, Ryan was leading Nehlen 84 percent to 16 percent, according to The Associated Press.

The intraparty drama echoed GOP splits that marked the presidential primary season and gave further evidence that party unity remains elusive just three months ahead of the general election. Like Trump, Nehlen sought to attack the establishment, something Ryan, as the highest ranking elected Republican, is the highest symbol of.

After stern admonishments from Republican leaders, including the head of the Republican National Committee and close friend to Ryan, Reince Priebus, Trump finally endorsed Ryan at a campaign stop in Green Bay on Friday —just four days before today's primary.

“Congratulations to my friend Paul Ryan on a well-earned victory,” Priebus said in a statement after Ryan was declared winner. “Speaker Ryan’s commitment to faithfully representing the people of Wisconsin and making the case for conservatism have never changed, and his years of principled public service make him a trusted leader in our Party."

Nehlen received an early endorsement by rogue Republican Sarah Palin and had received praise from Trump on the stump.

Nehlen, who took advantage of the media spotlight holding numerous press conferences and appeared often on television, embraced some of Trump's most divisive language, including his focus on people killed by undocumented immigrants.

Telling the story of a hypothetical young American girl, Nehlen warned of dashed dreams, saying, "maybe she'll be killed by an illegal immigrant in a car crash, or a home invasion, or a vicious violent assault — the kind that happens to men and women across the country each year."

For his part, Ryan has largely ignored that he even had a primary challenge. He held an event in Racine, on Tuesday, but he has not responded to any of Nehlen's attacks. He didn't even respond to Trump when the he refused to endorse him.

IMAGE: Donald Trump, Paul Nehlen, Paul Ryan
From left: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Republican Congressional candidate Paul Nehlen, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan