PLYMOUTH, Minn. (KMSP) - House Speaker Paul Ryan on Monday declared Minnesota a critical battleground for deciding which party controls Congress in 2019 and beyond.
During two visits to suburban campaign offices, Ryan defended two congressmen in U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen of Eden Prairie and U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis of Burnsville who are considered among the most endangered Republicans in the country. He also appealed to GOP voters in southern and northern Minnesota to flip two Democratic congressional seats.
“We see Minnesota as a critical part of it,” Ryan said in an exclusive interview with Fox 9. “I think Minnesotans see that they’re in the epicenter of control for Congress.”
Outside groups had spent $27.8 million on the four races as of last week, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Ryan said Paulsen was “a workhorse” in Congress who has passed “enormous reforms.” Paulsen faces Democratic challenger Dean Phillips, a businessman and first-time candidate. National analysts such as Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball and Cook Political Report have said the race “leans Democratic.”
Phillips on Monday dismissed Ryan’s visits.
“The fact that Ryan’s in town is wonderful for Congressman Paulsen. But Paul Ryan is yesterday,” Phillips said. “He’s not going to be around Jan. 2 no matter who controls the House of Representatives. I’m looking toward the future.”
Ryan is not running for re-election this year in his Wisconsin district after 20 years in office, the last three as speaker. He said he was not concerned that his legacy would be tarnished if Democrats took control of the House.
Ryan acknowledged the historical challenges facing the party in power during a midterm election. But he said the strong economy and Republican-approved tax cuts would combat those headwinds.
“That’s history. Whether there’s a Republican or Democrat in the White House, the odds are in a midterm election that the majority doesn’t do as well,” Ryan said. “That’s what the typical story is. We’re hoping to defy those odds.”
Paulsen has put distance between himself and President Donald Trump, who polls have shown to have limited appeal in the Minneapolis suburbs. He said in an interview Monday that he would speak out against the president on tariffs and immigration, and said he wanted Congress to take up additional tax code changes in 2019 to help small businesses and families.
“Minnesotans appreciate that independent perspective,” Paulsen said. “Vote what’s important to your district and your community and I’ve always done that – and will continue to do that.”
Phillips said Paulsen, a five-term congressman, has not been effective for the suburban district. He said he would seek gun control measures and a comprehensive fix to the country’s immigration issues.
“There are so many things that need to be done. So little has,” Phillips said. “We need to repopulate Congress with thoughtful Democrats and Republicans who are willing to work together.”