Campaign 2016 Wisconsin (copy)

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, left,  House Speaker Paul Ryan, center, and Gov. Scott Walker, acknowledge the crowd after speaking at the 1st Congressional District Republican Party of Wisconsin Fall Fest at the Walworth County Fairgrounds in Elkhorn on Saturday. 

MIKE DE SISTI, MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL

As House Speaker Paul Ryan faces criticism from his opponents for being inaccessible to residents of his congressional district, his campaign argues he's still the same hometown guy they sent to Washington in 1999.

Democratic challenger Randy Bryce, an iron worker from Caledonia, earned a "mostly true" rating from Politifact last week for a claim he's made frequently since launching his campaign — that Ryan hasn't held a town hall in the 1st Congressional District in more than 600 days. 

"Absolutely," Bryce recently told WISN reporter Mike Gousha when asked whether he felt Ryan had lost touch with the district, going on to criticize Ryan for prioritizing fundraisers over spending time with his constituents. 

The Politifact analysis relied on a traditional definition of a town hall — an informal, in-person public meeting between citizens and public figures. But the analysis noted Ryan's office considers telephone and employee town halls to be forms of public town hall meetings, too.

Ryan said as much when asked by reporters in Madison earlier this month why he doesn't hold town hall meetings.

"I don’t want to have a situation where we just have a screaming fest, a shouting fest, where people are being bused in from out of the district to get on TV because they’re yelling at somebody," Ryan said. "That does nobody any good. What I want to do is have a civil, good, quiet conversation with constituents."

That's why, Ryan said, he has turned to "new and creative" methods to connect with constituents, including telephone town halls, office hours and "employee town halls."

Ryan held two employee town halls during the 4th of July congressional recess — a weekend his campaign said was a "typical" one for him when he's home.

During that particular stretch of time, Ryan fielded friendly inquiries, like whether he'd rather see the Packers in the Super Bowl or the Brewers in the World Series — at gatherings of employees at WPC Technologies in Oak Creek and Burlington Graphic Systems in Racine.

During the same recess, Ryan marched in 4th of July parades in Oak Creek and Franklin, and presented a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol to a World War II veteran. 

He also met with constituents in Elkhorn, including members of the finance, insurance, building and real estate industries, prior to holding a campaign fundraiser dinner that netted $250,000.

The next day brought meetings in Janesville and a speaking engagement at an event led by Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist in Madison. En route to Madison, Ryan spoke on the phone with a Racine Journal Times reporter about the federal effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

While in Madison, Ryan accepted a "Distinguished Citizen" award from the Boy Scout Region of Southern Wisconsin, then took questions from reporters in the aforementioned news conference.

Once he returned to Janesville, Ryan toured another business, Seneca Foods, and met with its leaders. He wrapped up the weekend with stops at the Rock County GOP picnic and the Walworth County GOP cruise on Lake Geneva. 

"Let's do this. Let's stick this. Let's get it done," Ryan urged supporters on the cruise in a video provided by the campaign.

A more recent trip home, this past weekend, took on a more somber tone as Ryan toured flood-damaged communities in his district. He praised the communities' response while addressing the Republican Party of Kenosha County’s Reagan Day picnic on Saturday.

"You know what a beautiful community and society looks like? Drive 20 miles west," Ryan told supporters after observing clean-up efforts in Silver Lake and Wheatland.

He also used that speech, along with an appearance on "Upfront with Mike Gousha" to decry the media's focus on Russian meddling in U.S. elections and President Donald Trump's tweets. He argued there's not enough focus on what the House has accomplished from a legislative perspective. 

"It's wall-to-wall coverage. Russia, tweets, something else, when we've been actually putting a lot of things out of the House," Ryan told Gousha. 

Ryan has touted the passage of 14 laws under the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to reverse rules enacted near the end of the previous administration, a bipartisan overhaul of the Veterans Administration and the passage of the Financial Choice Act, which eliminates key portions of the Dodd-Frank regulations signed into law by Obama after the 2008 financial crisis.

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In addition, he's noted that although the Senate hasn't held its own vote yet, the House passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. 

Still on the legislative wish list is tax reform, which Ryan discussed during a Monday visit to the MillerCoors brewery in Milwaukee. 

Since being elected Speaker of the House in 2015, Ryan's split between work and home remains about the same as it's been throughout his time in Congress, his campaign said. He is in Washington, D.C. during the congressional schedule and comes home "nearly every single weekend." Sometimes he gets home on Friday or stays through Monday. 

"Paul's home is Wisconsin, not D.C. He comes back each week to Janesville because he loves his family, his community, and serving southern Wisconsin," said campaign spokesman Zack Roday. "That will never change; he will always take the trust voters have placed in him seriously."

Ryan's approval rating among Wisconsin voters is 44 percent, according to a Marquette University Law School poll released last month. This time last year, his approval rating was 48 percent. 

He faces potential challenges from Bryce and Janesville school board member Cathy Myers in 2018. Bryce's campaign launch attracted national attention thanks in part to a campaign video that spread rapidly on social media. 

Bryce was set on Tuesday to attend a fundraiser in New York hosted by the Working Families Party. In his first campaign finance report, filed this month, Bryce reported having $394,162 on hand.

Myers has not yet filed a report.

Ryan has $11.2 million in his campaign account, according to his most recent report.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.