If Romney’s win in Wisconsin strengthened his claim to the Republican presidential nomination, then his five straight days of campaigning with Ryan amounted to a tryout for the youthful congressman as a potential vice presidential running mate.
Since Ryan endorsed Romney last Friday, he was at the candidate’s side at every turn — introducing him before formal speeches, vouching for him at town hall meetings and joining him as they eyed cherry pie, picked up fried cheese curds and handed out sub sandwiches. (Romney gave away turkey; Ryan, ham and cheese.)
Along the way, Romney’s aides were sizing Ryan up. And although chief strategist Stuart Stevens waved off any talk of the two forming a national ticket as irresponsibly premature, he did say they got along well behind the scenes and noted their “chemistry” on the stump.
To some Republicans, Ryan’s positive attributes are obvious. Where some conservatives see Romney as an ideological squish, they consider Ryan not only a conservative of conviction but one of the movement’s intellectual champions. Where Romney, 65, is a private equity patrician from Boston, Ryan, 42, spent his teenage years living off Social Security benefits in blue-collar Janesville after his father died prematurely of a heart attack.
All year, Romney has struggled to connect with working-class voters, but Ryan showed how he might help as he introduced Romney at a forum Saturday in Pewaukee. Ryan talked casually about having been on “a road to opportunity” when he flipped burgers at a McDonald’s as a teenager, sold bologna — “real bologna, by the way” — for Oscar Mayer and waited tables to help pay back his student loans.
“Anybody fill up gas lately?” Ryan asked. “I mean, I filled up my truck last night and I couldn’t even get it to full because it cut me off at $100 — the credit card wouldn’t even let me buy any more gas. It’s ridiculous.”
The Romney-Ryan road show did more than stoke the “veepstakes,” Washington’s favorite quadrennial parlor game, however. It also cemented Romney’s embrace of Ryan’s controversial agenda as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
President Obama made clear in a speech Tuesday that he would campaign for reelection against Ryan’s budget proposal and tie Romney to it. Labeling the plan “radical,” Obama said it would pit the poor against the wealthy in a form of “social Darwinism.” The president also mocked Romney for having called the proposal “marvelous.”
On the campaign trail here, Romney has alternately called Ryan “a great leader,” “a wonderful speaker” and “a great man.” After Ryan endorsed him Friday in Appleton, Romney said: “This is a guy who’s willing to stand for something. He didn’t just go to Washington to be seen and to have a little job there. He went to Washington to make a difference.”