Republican US House Speaker Paul Ryan survives election challenge

House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks at his Primary Night press conference on August 9 in Janesville, Wisconsin.
House Speaker Paul Ryan speaks at his Primary Night press conference on August 9 in Janesville, Wisconsin.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US House Speaker Paul Ryan beat back a challenge in the Wisconsin Republican primaries on Tuesday (Aug 9), winning a race in which presidential hopeful Donald Trump had praised his populist rival.

In a year full of US presidential race firsts, and with incumbent lawmakers under tough scrutiny, a loss by Mr Ryan would have further jolted the rattled US political establishment as it eyes a White House election pitting Mr Trump against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

"I am humbled and honoured that Wisconsinites in the 1st Congressional District support my efforts to keep fighting on their behalf. Janna 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," the Speaker said in a statement.

Republican Party chairman Reince Preibus hailed his victory, describing Mr Ryan as "trusted". "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," Mr Preibus said.

Mr Ryan, the top elected Republican, has been voted in nine times by constituents in his congressional district, so the race would usually garner little attention. With a roughly 80 per cent approval rating, he had been expected to win.

But this time around, he faced an opponent who has openly supported Mr Trump, and the Republican White House candidate - with whom Mr Ryan has sparred throughout the campaign - offered his support only on Friday.

The movement against the 46-year-old Ryan took on the appearance of a revolt of sorts, in the midst of an anti-establishment wave that helped make Mr Trump the party's presidential nominee.

Mr Ryan's challenger, businessman Paul Nehlen, managed to get outsized attention by staging protests near Mr Ryan's home.

In one July 23 incident, Nehlen supporters and mothers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants challenged Mr Ryan's lack of full support for Mr Trump's immigration agenda.

Mr Ryan has criticised Mr Trump's call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Mr Trump touched off a firestorm last Tuesday when he refused to endorse Mr Ryan for re-election. Instead, the brash billionaire praised Mr Nehlen.