Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan has visited nearly a dozen states since Mitt Romney named him to the Republican ticket less than 20 days ago, but he’ll make his official entrance onto the national stage when he addresses the GOP convention on Wednesday night.
The engaging budget wonk from Wisconsin is expected to talk about shrinking the deficit, boosting employment and ousting President Barack Obama, whom Ryan has cast as the source of the country’s economic woes. But even more than policy, Ryan is poised to talk in detail about his personal story, his family and his small-town values during a half-hour speech he’s been tweaking with Romney and top aides for days.
"Words matter a lot and I'm putting a lot of effort into them," Ryan, a former speechwriter to 1996 vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp, told The Associated Press.
Before heading to the convention in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Ryan spent a couple hours rehearsing the speech in a ballroom at the Holiday Inn Express in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., NBC News reported.
“His speech will be his real introduction to a lot of people who don’t know anything more about him than the fact that he’s a vice presidential nominee,” said Kenneth Mayer, professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It’s not what Obama and Biden will have to do, because they’re incumbents and people know who they are.”
Those who do know Ryan likely know him as a 42-year-old congressman, the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the author the “Path to Prosperity,” a budget proposal that details his vision for the role of the U.S. government. The plan has been embraced by fellow Republicans as an alternative to Obama’s budget.
Ryan's budget, which aims to shrink the deficit by reducing the federal government’s role in programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, has been rejected by Democrats and praised by conservatives who see it as a bold and promising answer to the country’s financial problems.
“We don’t think the secret to economic growth is politicians in Washington and bureaucrats picking winners and losers in our economy,” Ryan told a crowd in Virginia. “The secret to economic growth is letting people keep more of what they earn and helping small businesses grow and compete and achieve.”
His addition to the Romney ticket draws a sharper contrast between the choices Americans have in November and could widen Romney’s appeal among conservative Republicans who may have supported another candidate in the primaries.
“Ryan’s speech will be designed to allay the fears of conservatives who are a little leery of Romney,” said Kevin Arceneaux, a political science professor at Temple University. “He’ll want to convince people that he’s not an extremist or an ideologue but fix in people’s mind that yes, he is a conservative.”
Ryan also can improve Romney’s likability and offer a contrast to the narrative the Obama team has been pushing — that Romney is wealthy and out of touch. To achieve that, Ryan should focus on his middle-class upbringing, Mayer said. “The bulk of the speech will be that he’s from a small town in Wisconsin and has small-town values,” Mayer predicted.
Ryan has been very open about his background, peppering his recent speeches and interviews with details from his personal life: He still lives in the town where grew up, Janesville, Wis. His wife and three children accompanied him to Tampa, along with his mother and a group of in-laws. In high school he played sports, worked at McDonald's and managed to win the titles of both prom king and biggest brown-noser. He was one of four children and lost his father to a heart attack at the age of 16.
His conservative values, he told The New Yorker, developed in the aftermath of his father’s death. “I just did lots of reading, lots of introspection. I read everything I could get my hands on,” he said. His reading led him to Ayn Rand’s bestselling “Atlas Shrugged.” In 2005, Ryan told the Atlas Society, a group devoted to the author’s works and philosophy, that he had all new staffers read “Atlas Shrugged,” as the book had shaped his career.
“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand," he said. "And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.”
More recently, Ryan said what while he enjoyed Rand's novels he repudiated her philosophy, called Objectivism.
"It's something that I completely disagree with. It's an atheistic philosophy," Ryan told Fox News on Aug. 14. "But I think what she's done is she's showed — she came from communism. She showed how the pitfalls of socialism can hurt the economy, can hurt people, families and individuals and that to me was very compelling novels. Which says freedom, free enterprise, liberty is so much better than totalitarianism and socialism."
Ryan’s foray into politics happened at an early age. After graduating from Miami University in Ohio, he worked as a speechwriter and analyst for Kemp, a conservative Republican congressman. Kemp suggested Ryan run for a seat in the House, which he won at the age of 28 and has kept ever since.
Heading into the convention, Ryan’s addition to the Republican ticket generated ample enthusiasm among GOP leaders but did not produce a significant bump on Romney’s standing in many polls. Some exceptions were seen, however, in two battleground states — Wisconsin and Florida — where Ryan's addition appeared to cut down Obama’s lead.
In both states Obama had held a 6-point lead, which was cut to three points in Wisconsin and just two in Florida after Ryan entered the picture, NBC News reported.
Given the recent lashing Republicans have taken since Missouri Rep. Todd Akin suggested that women's bodies could prevent pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape," both Ryan and Romney will likely tread carefully around the topic of women’s health.
Without interruptions from moderators or opponents, which Ryan will face as the campaign moves forward, his speech Wednesday night before thousands of delegates in the convention and millions of viewers watching from home will give most Americans the closest look they've had yet of the Republican vice presidential nominee.
On Tuesday, Ryan was asked as he boarded a plane to Tampa whether he were ready to take the stage at the convention. He replied, "I am."