On the third day of his vice presidential campaign, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan met his staff.
Fresh from a workout at a hotel gym in Iowa, Ryan stared into a video-conference monitor in exercise shorts and a University of Wisconsin baseball cap pulled down low. In Boston, a team of lawyers trooped into an office at campaign headquarters to greet their new boss -- from 1,300 miles away.
The cross-country meeting was part of the education Ryan has been getting since being selected as Mitt Romney’s running-mate on Aug. 11 and making his debut on the national stage.
The Wisconsin congressman managed his first days of campaigning for the Republican presidential ticket with no apparent mistakes. His crowds have counted in the thousands and been loud and enthusiastic. He used his life experiences and those of his home state constituents to make personal connections with voters he met along the way.
Questions on contentious issues, such as his budget plan, asked at campaign events were referred to Romney staff. Strolling through the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 13, the House Budget Committee chairman known for chatting informally with the reporters in the halls of the U.S. Capitol refused to answer any questions. “We’ll play stump the running-mate later,” he said. When reporters tried again on his campaign plane two days later, Ryan stayed silent, responding only with a smile and a peace sign.
Between campaign rallies -- which included one yesterday at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, his alma mater -- his schedule was packed with conference calls and briefings organized to teach the seven-term congressman from Janesville, Wisconsin, the ins-and-outs of operating inside the Romney bubble.
Ryan, 42, acted as his own boss for nearly 14 years in Congress, managing his political strategy with help from a handful of close aides. He built a reputation as an accessible, affable figure, eager to describe his fiscal policy vision to just about anyone who would listen.
Now, he must integrate into an insular campaign that prides itself on discipline, loyalty, and message-control.
Romney campaign headquarters has provided an entourage of senior staff to accompany their newest member. Bob White, a co-founder with Romney of Bain Capital LLC, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus traveled with Ryan early this week. Romney foreign policy adviser Dan Senor, who first met Ryan years ago when both were congressional aides, has been charged with managing his campaign on the road.
Hours before his first solo public event as Romney’s running mate on Aug. 13, aides held a series of meetings in the Des Moines Marriott for Ryan, including the remote introduction to the Boston staff. After that, there were briefings on finance, policy and communications. On flights between events, Ryan has begun charting out his convention speech with aides.
One of his major roles will be fundraising, giving Romney a fresh draw to replenish their campaign coffers. In Las Vegas, he held a private meet-and-greet session with top donors in the Venetian hotel. Participants included Sands Corp. executive Sheldon Adelson, the casino mogul who’s spending tens of millions of dollars to defeat President Barack Obama.
As Ryan learns about the campaign, his new staff is studying him.
They’ve discovered that he prefers to receive paper briefings rather than verbal ones, according to an aide not authorized to speak about private meetings on the record. His background as a House member -- who often collaborate with colleagues on legislation -- comes out in briefings, which staff describe as free-wheeling brainstorming sessions. And those who observed Ryan during his morning workouts -- he follows the grueling P90x fitness regime -- discovered that he really likes to break a sweat.
His exercise routine mystifies even Romney, a devoted practitioner of the elliptical machine. “I have never tried that,” he said in an interview on CBS’s “This Morning” yesterday. “I might have him show me how to do it someday.”
The differences between the two men go deeper than their preferred workouts. When Romney’s campaign put the candidate in jeans -- he favors Levi’s 501s -- it was a strategic decision designed to loosen up a buttoned-down candidate. Ryan prefers scuffed cowboy boots, carries his IPhone in a camouflage case, and props his feet up on the seat in front of him on his campaign plane.
While Romney can be awkward while interacting with voters, Ryan looks for ways to bond.
He described U.S. Senator Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican, as one of his “morning gym buddies” to voters in Las Vegas. He recounted teaching his young children to cook over a fire on a camping trip in Colorado at an event outside Denver.
At a “homecoming” rally in Wisconsin on Aug. 12, he wiped tears from his eyes and said ’Hi’ to his mother from the podium, before proclaiming his love of foods and beers linked to the state. “My veins run with cheese, bratwurst and a little Spotted Cow, Leinie’s and some Miller,” he told 10,000 cheering voters.
Sauntering past the Jumbo Corn Dog stands and Nacho booths of the Iowa State Fair the following day, Ryan connected with attendees by recounting his home state’s agriculture community. “We do cow milking contests in Wisconsin,” he told a small crowd. “I usually lose to a 17-year-old woman, who grew up on a dairy farm, who’s wearing like a sash and tiara.”
Ryan’s political experience -- he was elected to the House when he was 28 -- enabled him to manage the few bumps that did occur with aplomb.
When confronted by hecklers at the Iowa fair, he paused for only a moment before continuing to plow through his stump speech. “Iowans and Wisconsinites, we like to respectful of one another,” he said, after two women rushed the stage. “These ladies must not be from Iowa or Wisconsin.”
Last year, Romney faced similar protesters during an August speech on the Des Moines Register soapbox, a traditional stop for presidential candidates, and wound up shouting in response that “corporations are people,” providing Democrats with an enduring attack line.
Ryan’s ease on the stump is helping Republican voters grow so comfortable with their new candidate that they frequently call him by his first name at rallies. “That was so cool,” said Stephen Boggioni, after Ryan caught a baseball with one hand at the event in Las Vegas. “We got a better candidate than Sarah Palin this time.”