MADISON, Wis. — The political odd couple of 2016 — Donald Trump and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan — will carve out time together at an annual Wisconsin fall festival this weekend.
Ryan and Trump are scheduled to join other state politicians, including Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ron Johnson, at the Saturday event, which comes a day before the second presidential debate and as Trump has put a renewed emphasis on Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes.
Ryan was slow to endorse Trump, earning the businessman’s wrath. The top congressional Republican has been critical of the GOP presidential nominee on a range of issues, from Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims to his slow disavowal of white supremacists. Most recently, Ryan said Trump should release his tax returns.
The event will mark the first time that Ryan has appeared with Trump on the campaign trail. Ryan told The Associated Press that he hasn’t campaigned with Trump yet because “I’ve been busy doing my job.”
“I want to win up and down the ballot, but my primary responsibility is re-election of House Republicans,” Ryan said during a brief interview after appearing at a campaign stop for GOP House candidate Lloyd Smucker, who is expected to win an open Republican seat near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Trump is spending more time in Wisconsin as polls show him and Democrat Hillary Clinton to be running about even. Clinton has not campaigned in Wisconsin since April and neither campaign is running any ads.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders held a rally Wednesday in Wisconsin’s liberal capital city of Madison to encourage his supporters to vote for Clinton and Feingold. The rally attracted about 1,200 people.
The Trump campaign sees Wisconsin as very much in play, Republican state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Thursday during a conference call with reporters. Fitzgerald said he sees signs that Republicans in suburban Milwaukee counties who fueled Trump’s defeat in the April primary will vote for him next month. That voting bloc is crucial for any Republican running statewide.
“It’s going to be more a referendum on Hillary Clinton than it’s going to be about Donald Trump,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s why I think we can have success in Wisconsin. We’re going to win this thing, which I don’t think anyone could have imagined going into this election cycle.”
Liberals took a dim view of the Republican weekend gathering, which comes just over a month before Election Day.
“It’s telling that it took until the second weekend of October for the state’s leading Republicans to be dragged onto a stage in Wisconsin to been seen with the party’s presidential nominee,” said Scot Ross, director of the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now.
Johnson is considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans in his campaign against former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold. Republicans have cut spending in the state and so have confident Democrats.
“Sadly, between Johnson’s support for bad trade deals and Trump’s hateful rhetoric and childish behavior, the duo would be a disaster for our state’s middle class and working families,” Feingold spokesman Michael Tyler said in a prepared statement.
Neither Johnson nor Ryan has appeared with Trump at any of his five prior campaign stops in Wisconsin since he lost the state’s primary to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Walker, who helped prepare Trump’s running mate Mike Pence for the vice presidential debate, introduced Trump at a campaign stop in August.
Other Republicans scheduled to be at the Saturday event in Elkhorn include Attorney General Brad Schimel, Treasurer Matt Adamcyzk and Wisconsin state party chairman Brad Courtney.
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report from Rheems, Pennsylvania.