JANESVILLE, Wis. – Hometown Rep. Paul Ryan — just “Paul” to the local folks — got a rowdy sendoff on Monday from 2,000 locals who gathered in the gym of his alma mater, Craig High School, to wish him well in Tampa. Ryan, for his part, pledged to bring the Midwestern values of his upbringing with him.
“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. Think of the charities that we all raised right here in Janesville to make our community stronger,” Ryan said, ticking off a list of local nonprofits.
Ryan will depart for the convention on Tuesday, his departure having been delayed by the storm hitting the Gulf Coast. He paused during his speech to acknowledge the threat.
“I think we should right now put in our minds and our prayers the people who have been victims of [Tropical Storm] Isaac and those who still stand in the path of the storm,” he said.
Ryan said that the story of Janesville, the town of about 60,000 where he was born, raised, and currently lives, also is America’s story. He recalled the Irish immigrant families like his who settled there after the potato famine in the 1800s. His great-great-grandfather, he said, worked on the railroads in Boston to earn enough to buy a farm in Wisconsin.
“It’s not a unique story, it’s the American story, and the reason our family came and the reason everyone else’s family came here is because of what this country stands for,” he said. “America is not just a piece of geography, it’s an idea. You know it’s the only country founded on an idea and that idea is precious.”
Even though Ryan’s speech was intended as a feel-good event — he was joined by his wife, family, and many of the 70 Ryan cousins who still live near him — the Obama campaign used it to try to call attention to what it said were its rivals’ shortcomings.
“In Wisconsin, Congressman Ryan talked a lot about what makes America great,” Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said. “But what he and Mitt Romney don’t seem to understand is that the country’s strongest when the middle class is strong and prosperous. They’d raise taxes for middle-class families with kids by an average of $2,000, turn Medicare into a voucher system, and slash critical investments in education and infrastructure.”
Ryan’s life has changed dramatically in the two weeks since he was named as presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate. While he has returned home on Sundays to attend Mass and have dinner with some of his extended family, a two-block security perimeter now surrounds his brick home with a constant presence from Secret Service and local police.
But for the many supporters from around Janesville, there is only pride around those changes. Dozens showed up sporting the famous Wisconsin cheesehead hats, bearing the “Romney-Ryan” logo stamped on the side.
“It definitely means a lot to have someone from your hometown trying to turn things around for the country, not just for our area, but for the whole country,” said Janesville resident Julie Wilcox, who worships at St. John Vianney Catholic Church, which Ryan attends.
“It’s a big deal for us, because finally we have somebody national that represents our views, and we’re happy about that,” said Bill Cunningham of neighboring Beloit.