PEWAUKEE, Wis. – Never mind that there were three GOP presidential candidates headlining the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Presidential Kickoff event here on Saturday. The crowd’s hardiest applause went to Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who’s not gunning for a spot on the Republican ballot in November – at least not yet.
Sandwiched into a five-minute speaking slot between former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and onetime Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the Wisconsin congressman and conservative budget champion brought the audience to its feet at the Country Springs Hotel, eliciting cheers far more enthusiastic than those offered up for Gingrich, Romney, or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who spoke later in the morning.
Ryan, who Thursday night announced his endorsement of Romney, expressed concerns about the Republican race, saying, “If we keep dragging this thing on… it becomes counterproductive” to the party. Since the endorsement, Romney has hinted that Ryan may be included on his eventual vice presidential short list.
Each of the candidates Saturday mentioned Ryan by name at least once, with the notable exception of Santorum, who dismissed him as “some other Wisconsinite” in a passing reference to Ryan’s much-trumpeted GOP budget blueprint. Earlier in the week, prior to the endorsement, Santorum devoted nearly an entire event to singing Ryan’s praises during a visit to Ryan’s hometown of Janesville.