Meeting Paul Ryan
A First Row Look at the Ryan Unveiling
I was in a friend’s room late Friday night when one of my friends entered and said, “Mitt Romney is announcing tomorrow.”
The game stopped immediately. I ignored the never-ending argument of who was a better champion, Bill Russell or Babe Ruth (it made sense at the time), and rushed over to a lap top in the corner. It was true; Mitt Romney would announce his pick in Virginia – our neighbor in Washington, D.C. Being from New Hampshire, I momentarily forgot that not the rule of “If it’s in the next state, you can take a day trip” does not apply to the Commonwealth. But when I found out that the drive would take 3.5 hours to get to Norfolk for the announcement, that didn’t matter enough to deter me…Neither did the fact that I would have to pick up a car across town at American University… Or that the doors opened to the announcement at 7:45 A.M….and was likely a first-come, first-serve affair – despite the ticket requirement.
So, I left my dorm at 2:30, hailed a cab, searched Tenleytown in the pouring rain for a Zipcar, picked up a friend, and drove the pre-sunrise way to Norfolk, V.A.
From 4:00 A.M. to 7:00, we asked ourselves “Are we really doing this?” about a hundred times.
The answer was given when we made it through the perfectly-orchestrated entrance next to the U.S.S. Wisconsin and into the staging area where Governor Mitt Romney would announce Congressman Paul Ryan as his sidekick on “America’s Comeback Team”.
We took a spot along the rope-line in the front row and watched as Governor George Allen, a few other local dignitaries, and thousands of supporters crowded the beautiful bayside venue.
As a NH Primary enthusiast, I have seen many of Mitt Romney’s events. Members of the crowd at Mitt Romney events are always interested, but never excited. Romney events generally provide little electricity and no euphoria; except on Saturday.
When VA Governor Bob McDonnell introduced Mitt Romney, the capacity crowd erupted. When he announced that Paul Ryan was his selection for the first time out loud, fists pumped in the air and hands reached toward the heavens. There was a sense of “We can do this” that has been lacking at Romney has fallen behind in the polls.
When Paul Ryan exited U.S.S. Wisconsin and walked toward the stage, the crowd was even more fired up. The walk-up music was fit for an epic battle at the end of a cheesy Hollywood movie, making it perfect to set the tone for the home stretch of the 2012 campaign.
When Romney introduced Ryan as “the next President of the United States,” my friend and I looked over at Ann Romney. We read her lips as she said, “Are you kidding me? Come on Mitt!” to herself. When he walked down to join his family, he was not greeted with the hug that he expected. Instead, his wife and sons pointed out his error.
For the first time in my history of following him, I saw Mitt Romney showed genuine emotion. “Did I?” he asked with a concerned look on his face, before putting the smile back on and making his correction on stage.
Meanwhile, on stage, Paul Ryan strutted on stage to a wild ovation – much louder than the one that Romney had received. His speech was constantly interrupted by applause from supporters, and interrupted once by someone who literally professed his love for them.
At the conclusion of Ryan’s introductory speech to the nation, it was clear that Team Romney is fired up over his selection. I looked back to see RNC Chaiman Reince Preibus shaking the hand of the Romney staffer next to him, both of them beaming and laughing. Next to him, Romney advisor Ed Gillespie squeezed the woman next to him (I sure hope that was his wife) in a gigantic hug, and the two jumped in unison like giddy cheerleaders at the conclusion of a high school basketball game. Neither Preibus nor Gillespie are known for being over-emotional or energetic, so the sight of their pure euphoria is meaningful.
Afterwards, the Romney’s and Ryan’s joined the candidates on stage and around the ropeline, where supporters stood ten-deep for a chance to shake their hands.
As Paul Ryan approached our area, his wife Janna and their two young sons stood behind him.
The man next to me – a tall, slender former Marine – shouted, “Congratulations, Mrs. Ryan!” and she walked over to our area. I shook her hand and said, “Congratulations, Mrs. Ryan.” Her two sons, both under the age of 10, showed the fatigue of two little guys who had been through a long 24 hours (they both spent most of their father’s speech yawning). I crouched down to their level and said, “Congratulations guys!” and put my hand up for a high five. At last, they became children again, and the youngest smacked my hand hard enough to make it sting.
Their dad reached our point in line a few minutes later.
“We’re praying for you, Congressman. Keep the faith,” I said.
He paused and his eyes locked onto mine. “That’s the nicest thing I could ask for. Thank you so much, and thanks for coming out today. We appreciate it.”
In those minutes on the ropeline I figured out Paul Ryan’s biggest asset to the campaign: Humanity. While Mitt Romney is seen as stiff, Paul Ryan is natural. While Mitt Romney is seen as awkward, Paul Ryan is comfortable. While Mitt Romney is seen as snobbish, Paul Ryan’s Midwestern charm give him a genuine down-to-earth nature.
People will have genuine beefs with the Ryan Roadmap and some of Ryan’s social stands in the past. But it’s hard to attacked Paul Ryan, especially since he doesn’t do much attacking on his own.
If the Left wants to lob bombs for the next 10 weeks, they’ll have to focus on policy; accusing the man who has a 10-year-old girl on one hand and a beautiful wife on the other of waging a “war on women” will hardly stick.
After the rally, my friend and I drove back through treacherous, depression-inducing traffic back to Washington. The phrase “I can’t believe we just did that”, with expletives tossed into various places of the sentence, was repeated at least 50 times.