Paul Ryan and his staff are keeping a tight lid on details about his Wednesday-night speech accepting the vice presidential nomination, pointing only to the Wisconsin lawmaker’s evolving campaign remarks as a guide.
Ryan huddled with top aides and advisers as he flew from his hometown of Janesville to Tampa on Tuesday to put the finishing touches on what will be the biggest speech of his life.
On the stump, Ryan has framed the election as a choice between what he calls President Obama’s European-like policies and Republican Mitt Romney’s embrace of free-market principles. The remarks are light on policy specifics but heavy on the broad outlines of Romney’s plans for the country.
But Ryan has also emerged as the Average Joe half of the ticket, conveying an authentic message that could benefit the team’s efforts to put a personal spin on the Romney-Ryan political message. He can speak about the challenges his family faced when his father died suddenly when Ryan was only 16. And he has this to say about the president’s 2008 remarks at a fundraiser that some people cling to their guns and religion: “Hey, as a Catholic deer hunter—guilty as charged.”
Even more powerful is Ryan’s everyman personal story of growing up in a town populated by Irish immigrants such as his great-great-grandfather who fled after the potato famine of the mid-1800s. It’s a place where the young Ryan flipped burgers at McDonald’s and where nearly 70 of his cousins still live.
He introduced those themes during a Janesville send-off rally on Monday, describing the community’s close-knit ways and self-sufficiency. He could use that kind of message to promote a vision of limited government, emphasizing his middle-class roots.
“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, as he ticked off a list of local food banks and charities.
Ryan has spent the past two weeks planning the estimated 30-minute address with speechwriters John McConnell and Matthew Scully, who traveled with him to observe his speaking style during his first week on the campaign trail. He has also conferred with longtime aides Andy Speth and Joyce Meyer, and he spent the flight to Tampa making final edits with Romney senior adviser Dan Senor and aide Conor Sweeney.
He has formally practiced the speech just once, a two-hour session on Monday over Jimmy John’s sandwiches in a banquet room of the Holiday Inn Express. He stood behind a podium and used teleprompters to approximate the setting for Wednesday night as about 10 members of his staff watched.
Aside from his speech, Ryan’s time in Tampa remains wide open, with no public events. But Wednesday and Thursday offer several opportunities to add a meeting—perhaps with the Wisconsin delegation—to his schedule.
As he boarded the plane to Tampa with 10 members of his family in tow, the casually dressed representative seemed calm and excited as he thanked the crew members of the charter plane that has squired him around for the past two weeks.
The press corps, looking on, inquired whether he’s ready for Tampa.
Ryan’s response was unhesitating and enthusiastic: “I am!”
This article appears in the August 29, 2012 edition of NJ Convention Daily.