WAUKESHA, Wis. – After two full days of campaigning together, it has become clear that Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is being called on to do many of the things that Mitt Romney couldn’t do for himself.
The Republican presidential ticket is drawing huge and at times electric crowds, at long last energizing a conservative base that has hungered for an inspiring standard-bearer. Ryan is articulating clear convictions about fiscal austerity and offering an intellectual vision. And he’s fleshing out Romney’s biography, vouching for his character and values and trumpeting his accomplishments, such as turning around the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
Remember the chaos? Remember the waste and the bloated spending and the corruption that was plaguing the Olympics at that time? Ryan asked sweaty throngs of supporters packed into a steamy furniture factory in High Point, N.C., on Sunday. Who did they turn to? Who did they ask to drop everything in his life and save the Olympics? That was this man right here.
Romney smiled and nodded in approval.
Onstage, the relaxed Ryan exudes the kind of vigor and easy confidence that the more stiff and seemingly rehearsed Romney long has struggled to project. This is awesome, the 42-year-old congressman from Wisconsin exhorted as he looked out at another roaring crowd. When Romney pledged to get rid of Obamacare, Ryan threw his arms in the air in approval.
I am so happy, Romney told an overflow crowd in North Carolina. I am so happy to have my teammate now – the two of us.
But after Sunday night’s homecoming rally for Ryan in Waukesha, the two men parted ways and are not expected to appear together again for 2 1/2 weeks, when they will reunite at the Republican National Convention, in Tampa, Fla.
So with the couple’s short honeymoon over, will Romney go back to being the candidate he was, or will he carry this newfound momentum through the rest of his bus trip and the fall campaign? And as Ryan begins his solo campaign swing, will his star power among conservative activists outshine Romney’s, drawing parallels to Sarah Palin, the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2008?
Although Ryan’s validation of Romney has gone over well, it’s a tall order to seed a new narrative to prop up the candidate, whose likability ratings fell this summer under the onslaught of the Obama campaign’s attacks on his personal finances and business ethics. And for all the attention Ryan has received since Romney tapped him as his No. 2 on Saturday, it’s Romney who will be debating President Obama and whose name will appear at the top of ballots in November.
Americans recognize that running mates are very important, but it’s the top of the ticket obviously that makes what the voters decide on as they enter the ballot booth, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the 2008 GOP nominee, said on Fox News Sunday.
Despite Ryan and Romney’s easy rapport, there are emerging flash points, such as Ryan’s budget proposal to slash federal spending and overhaul Medicare.
On the stump, both candidates have avoided talking about the specifics in Ryan’s budget, instead alluding to his bold ideas and casting the House Budget Committee chairman as a consensus-builder with solutions to the nation’s fiscal crisis.
Instead of throwing brickbats and attacking and demonizing other people, he recognized that honest people can have honest differences, Romney said Sunday at a rally in Mooresville, N.C.
Democrats are seizing on the Medicare proposal in particular to paint the Romney-Ryan ticket as dangerous. Congressman Ryan is a right-wing ideologue, and that is reflected in the positions that he’s taken, David Axelrod, a senior strategist for the Obama campaign, said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
He is quite extreme – good, good person, you know, genial person – but his views are quite harsh, Axelrod added.
Although Ryan has spent the vast majority of his adult life in Washington, first as a congressional aide and later as a congressman, Romney is trying to convince voters that Ryan’s dreams were elsewhere.
His career ambition was not to go to Washington, Romney said Sunday in North Carolina. That is not what he wanted to do. But he became concerned about what was happening in the country and wanted to get America back on track, and so he put aside the plans he had for his career and said, I’m gonna go and serve.’
This fits the image the Romney campaign is trying to project of Ryan: a committed family man and a humble public servant, a rigorous thinker and a principled leader. At each campaign stop, Romney makes a point of telling voters that Ryan formed his character in high school when his father died.
Today, as Romney stages two rallies and a business roundtable in Florida, Ryan will head to the Iowa State Fair, the summertime capital of retail politicking.
Iowa, in particular, that is a state where I think (Ryan’s) life story is important, campaign adviser Kevin Madden said.
It’s something that I think helps him connect with a lot of those voters there.
Romney’s campaign strategists think that Ryan could help the ticket across the Midwest, in particular with blue-collar voters in the Great Lakes region and other industrial areas, although they said they are planning to have him campaign in all the battleground states.
I don’t know any place you wouldn’t take him, said Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist. You could take him to the suburbs of Philly. You could take him to small-town Iowa. You could take him to Florida.
The next few weeks will test whether Stevens is right. But Romney may not want to see his partner leave his side. While the pair addressed one crowd in North Carolina, Romney heaped praise on Ryan when supporters interrupted with chants of Paul! Paul!
Yeah! Romney cried out in response. Paul! Paul! Paul! Paul! Paul! Paul! Let’s cheer for Paul!