Paul Ryan campaigns with Paulsen, Lewis

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U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis listen during a business roundtable Monday in Burnsville. Brian Bakst | MPR News

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan appeared Monday with two Republican lawmakers in tough races, touting the nation’s strong economy and plugging initiatives the GOP hopes get more attention in a fall campaign expected to revolve around President Donald Trump.

Ryan, of neighboring Wisconsin, bounced from event to event with Minnesota Reps. Erik Paulsen and Jason Lewis, whose suburban seats are high on Democratic target lists this fall.

The Ryan-Paulsen appearance at the Best Buy headquarters was closed, although protesters gathered nearby. Ryan also toured a trucking company with Lewis and later held a business roundtable at a Burnsville construction firm.

About 20 minutes of the roundtable was open to reporters. At it, Ryan and Lewis discussed the need to make vocational education more attractive for youth about to leave high school, arguing that manufacturers face a shortage of technical workers.

“We have to go pull people off the sidelines into the workforce. What we’re trying to do is come up with every incentive we can think of to get people into the workforce and make two year school cool again,” Ryan said.

He promoted a legislative push by Lewis to expand financial incentives and allow more credit transfers for students who take vocational courses. Lewis said it’s part of a needed rethinking of higher education.

“How we change the paradigm from everyone has a four-year liberal arts degree. I talk to employers like you and with chamber presidents, things like that. None of them say they need more anthropology majors,” Lewis said. “They say is I need someone who can operate a computerized lathe. This is highly technical, highly skilled stuff. And we’ve got the ability to train these people, to do our kids a real service and get them out in the workforce without a huge student debt.

Lewis, who won the 2nd Congressional District seat in 2016, is in a rematch with Democratic businesswoman Angie Craig. Lewis narrowly won the three-way race in a district that Trump also won by a thin margin.

Lewis has embraced Trump’s agenda in Washington and was part of the president’s recent campaign rally in Duluth.

For his part, Paulsen has kept some distance from Trump, who lost big in the 3rd Congressional District even as Paulsen cruised to his fifth term. Paulsen has voted for several Trump proposals, including the tax-cut plan passed in December, but has parted ways with the president on trade and immigration.

Democratic entrepreneur Dean Phillips is challenging Paulsen in the November election and their race will be one of the country’s most closely watched.

Ryan’s brief stop in Minnesota didn’t include a press conference. Ryan isn't seeking a new term in Congress, meaning Republicans will have to elect a new leader whether they retain their majority or not.

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