As vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan flew from his hometown of Janesville, Wis., to the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Tuesday morning, he huddled with advisers to put the finishing touches on what will be the biggest speech of his career. While Ryan’s campaign staff kept a tight lid on details, they said that he likely will draw from his remarks at campaign appearances since he was named Mitt Romney’s running mate a little over two weeks ago.
In his 15-minute stump speech, Ryan frames the election as a choice between what he calls President Obama’s European-like fiscal policies and Romney’s embrace of free-market principles. The remarks are usually light on policy specifics, and they have also have been highly personal as the campaign strives for a more human touch.
Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, casts himself as an average Joe, describing the challenges his family faced when his father died suddenly when Ryan was 16. He talks about growing up in Janesville, a town descended from Irish immigrants like his great-great-grandfather, who fled the potato famine in the 1800s. Nearly 70 of his cousins still live in the area, and Ryan likes to recall flipping hamburgers at a local McDonald’s restaurant when he was young.
He introduced some of those themes during a send-off rally in Janesville on Monday, describing the community’s close-knit ways and its self-sufficiency. The message would allow him, in a convention setting, to promote his vision of a smaller government.
“What we do in our communities is we look out for one another, that’s what’s so special, that’s what government can’t replace or displace,” he said, ticking off a list of local food banks and charities. He has also poked fun at President Obama’s remarks in 2008 about people in small-town America clinging to “guns or religion.” Ryan quips, “This Catholic deer-hunter is guilty as charged, and proud of that!”
Since he was chosen as Romney’s running mate on Aug. 11, Ryan has been planning for the estimated 30-minute address with speechwriters John McConnell and Matthew Scully, who traveled with him on the campaign to observe his speaking style. Ryan also gets input from longtime aides Andy Speth and Joyce Meyer, and spent the flight to Tampa making final edits with senior adviser Dan Senor and aide Conor Sweeney.
He has had one formal practice session, a two-hour affair over Jimmy John’s sandwiches in a banquet room of the Holiday Inn Express in Janesville on Monday. Ryan stood behind a podium and used a teleprompter to approximate the setting for his appearance on Wednesday night, as about 10 members of his staff watched.
Aside from his speech, Ryan’s days in Tampa remain wide open with no public events. As he boarded the plane to Tampa with members of his family, the casually dressed congressman seemed excited as he thanked the chartered plane’s crew members. When reporters asked whether he’s ready for the convention, he answered with an enthusiastic, “I am!”