JANESVILLE, Wis. — The portrait of House Speaker Paul Ryan as a fifth-generation local raising his three children on the same block on which he grew up is genuine.
After becoming the most powerful representative late last year, and drawing a primary challenger mainly focused on his leadership role in March, the question of whether he was losing touch back home arose. But chats with constituents across the Badger State's 1st Congressional District, and especially those here in his hometown, reveal that most believe he is still firmly rooted in southeastern Wisconsin.
As Ryan faces Paul Nehlen at the polls on Tuesday, a small sampling of Main Street businesses on Sunday produced a two-for-two record of Ryan visits within the past week.
"He's the only politician I've met. He's a regular guy doing his job," said Evan Brovold of Delavan. Ryan spoke to one of Brovold's high school classes in 2010 and left him with a good impression. When Ryan became speaker last October, he "felt a sense of pride," Brovold said.
"I think he's a pretty cool guy and seems pretty down to Earth," said Dillon Holmes, a machinist with Ocenco Inc., a small manufacturer in Pleasant Prairie that Ryan toured and fielded employee questions at on Monday.
Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor infamously lost his seat during 2014's Republican primary in Virginia's 7th District. Most attributed his surprising defeat to a perception that he cared more about his leadership role and was out of touch with his constituents.
Ryan is determined not to suffer the same ignominy.
"You may have learned this, I became speaker of the House" recently, Ryan said to chuckles and applause when he visited a Racine-based tool shop on Monday. "It wasn't a job I was looking for. It was a job that my colleagues sort of drafted me to do." Ryan reiterated that retaining family time was his top condition for going along with them.
"I'm home every single weekend. I'm not going to travel around the country," although it's usually part of the gig, he said.
That condition earned him praise from even some detractors.
"I liked that family time and not wanting to be away a lot was important to him," said Janet Kott, who is backing Nehlen, on Tuesday.
Ryan's favorability in the district is high and steady.
Marquette University Law School's June and July surveys put it at 84 percent among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters. Among all voters, it was 53 percent.
"I don't understand why anyone would not vote for Paul Ryan," said John Schulze, lobbyist for the state's Associated Builders and Contractors chapter and 1st District resident. "He's generally a likeable guy."
Matt Frost, Ocenco's purchasing manager, said he met Ryan at a small gathering hosted by his neighbor in Kenosha when he first ran for Congress in 1998.
"I've been a supporter," Frost said. "I think he's got a real good handle on this country and what's important, and he's willing to fight the right way for the right things."
Ryan's Ocenco stop may have earned him a new voter.
"It sounds like he's good on getting jobs here. I might have to look into that," said Maurel Gaughan, an Ocenco machinist who lives in Kenosha. "He might make me vote," something Gaughan usually doesn't do.
Ryan prioritizes making time and granting access to local media outlets. Over the weekend, he attended local festivals and fairs but only local reporters were invited to join him. The horde of national reporters who descended on southeastern Wisconsin in the last week as Nehlen got some high-profile accolades, such as from GOP nominee Donald Trump, were not told his schedule or asked to tag along.
The 46-year-old lawmaker shrewdly makes the rounds with Wisconsin's conservative radio hosts and frequently calls into local stations.
Unlike Sarah Palin, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity and other national conservative figures who jumped on the Nehlen train, Charlie Sykes — probably the state's best-known Republican radio pundit — and his colleagues remain on Ryan's side.
"He calls in a lot to our local radio station," Paul Phelps of Delavan said. "One time he called in from his car and you could hear him trying to keep his kid in the backseat quiet." It was such a "normal" person moment that it endeared Ryan to Phelps.
"He's got that real-guy vibe," he said. "I actually like him and I tend to vote Democratic."
To be sure, Ryan has his share of disaffected constituents. "I just don't like him and never have" said Tricia, who didn't want to use her last name in order to avoid friction with her pro-Ryan friends in Janesville.
But most acknowledge that he is a 1st District fixture. They also have a sense of pride about their neighbor's ascension to the speakership and national prominence before that when he joined Mitt Romney on the Republican's 2012 presidential ticket.
"I have met him and have a positive view of him," said a server at Mike's Donuts and Chicken in Kenosha who did not want to be named. "He is a good individual for our community and a good role model. But I don't believe in many of his stronger beliefs."
Matthew Brown of Beloit agrees.
"I think he's great for the area. Anytime you have the speaker of the house as your congressman, that's good for your area. If he stays speaker a long time, even better."
Ryan's leadership role is what Nehlen supporters most dislike about him. They call him a "traitor" for doing things like bringing last year's omnibus spending package to the floor.
Having the speaker of the House as your local member of Congress, "normal people would like that," Brown said.
As to the notion that Ryan is out of touch with his district: "That's ridiculous," said one local GOP operative who did not want to be named.
Nehlen voters are smarting over what they consider Ryan's disrespectful attitude toward Trump, but Ryan is exponentially more popular in his district than Trump is.
Less than 50 percent of Republican voters in the 1st District like Trump, according to the Marquette polls. And only 25 percent of all voters do.
"I respect him for standing up to Trump, when appropriate," said J.C. Taylor of Janesville. "He has to walk a fine line, and I think he's doing it pretty well."