And so, on Wednesday night, Ryan began repeating the sales pitch that has defined his life in politics. It starts with the man, not the numbers. The Wisconsin congressman has adopted a campaign persona that plays up his regular-guy status and plays down his reputation as the GOP’s head nerd.
“My dad used to say to me: ‘Son, you have a choice. You can be part of the problem, or you can be part of the solution,’ ” Ryan said as he accepted his party’s nomination for vice president.
Since Mitt Romney chose Ryan as his running mate, there has been little sign of the Budget Committee chairman who wants to reengineer Medicare and who wades confidently through billions and trillions. Instead, Ryan casts himself more simply, as a football-loving family man from the Midwest who hunts deer and catches catfish. During his last big speech, the largest number involved in his personal appeal was 67 — the number of his cousins.
This approach is useful because it does not highlight the differences between Ryan’s big ideas and Romney’s. But it is also a version of a well-honed pitch that has carried Ryan to success in Washington.
He has untraditional ideas about reshaping government, but he takes pains to show that there is nothing untraditional about himself.
“I live on the same block where I grew up. We belong to the same parish where I was baptized. Janesville is that kind of place,” Ryan said Wednesday night, in a high-profile speech that cited his mother as an example of entrepreneurship and his grandmother as a symbol of his commitment to Medicare.
The delegates and party bosses here have a businesslike relationship with Romney, their presidential nominee: They had a job opening, and he was the best-credentialed applicant. Ryan is something different. He is popular enough to reflect popularity onto the man who chose him.
“It gives confidence. And it gives us hope. It was more of a complete picture” once Romney chose Ryan, said Kim Lehman, a national committeewoman from Johnston, Iowa.
Were the roots of Lehman’s feelings in the details of Ryan’s famous House budget? For people who are now younger than 55, that blueprint would get rid of today’s Medicare and instead offer a government subsidy, which could be used to buy coverage from Medicare or private insurers.
“I really can’t answer that,” Lehman said. She didn’t know enough about it. But she said she trusts Ryan.
“People vote for people,” she said. Not budgets.
That idea has been at the heart of Ryan’s run for vice president as he has sought to underline his good-people credentials. The very first words of his first solo campaign stop were about football: “Are there any Packer fans here?” He was speaking in Iowa, which is not Green Bay Packer territory, so there weren’t many.