Ryan’s campaign strategy bolstered by longtime advisers, some of them his friends
By Felicia Sonmez,
TAMPA — Paul Ryan, flying on his campaign plane from his home town of Janesville, Wis., to the GOP convention on Tuesday afternoon, put the final touches on a speech that will mark his debut on the national stage Wednesday night.
Seated to his left at the table strewn with mugs of coffee and sheets of paper was an aide from Ryan’s Washington office. In front of him was an adviser, tapped by Mitt Romney’s top leadership in Boston, whom Ryan happens to know since their days serving as congressional aides together in the 1990s.
The scene underscored a dynamic that has marked Ryan’s 19 days on the trail as the Republican vice-presidential nominee: The seven-term Wisconsin congressman has run a tightly scripted campaign, surrounded by operatives from Romney’s Boston headquarters who also happen to have a close relationship with Ryan.
When Ryan steps onto the stage in Tampa, the speech he delivers will be the most tangible product yet of that dynamic. It’s an address that Ryan — a former speechwriter for Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.) and later for Kemp’s Empower America think tank — played a leading role in writing, with the aid of advisers from Boston as well as his own inner circle.
“Well, it’s me,” Ryan told reporters aboard his campaign plane last Wednesday when asked about the developing address. “It’s what I believe and what I do. It’s going to be — I used to write speeches, I’ve done a lot of speechwriting in the past. Words matter a lot, and I’m putting a lot of effort into it.”
Throughout his 21 / 2 weeks on the trail, Ryan has kept in close contact with Boston through regular video conferences, and advisers at campaign headquarters have reviewed versions of his speech.
In addition, two top Republican speechwriters — Matthew Scully and John McConnell, both former writers for George W. Bush — were enlisted by the Romney campaign to work with Ryan in crafting his address. Scully is renowned for writing then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s widely hailed 2008 convention speech, although few traces of her in-your-face brand are expected when Ryan takes the stage. McConnell also served as chief speechwriter to former Vice President Dick Cheney.
The speechwriting duo traveled the trail with Ryan from the day he was announced as Romney’s running mate until the following Saturday, when they parted ways with the GOP nominee at a Florida campaign event and continued their collaboration from afar.
When it comes to the other traveling aides who have been working with Ryan on the speech, the group is a blend of longtime Ryan aides and a campaign-staff-in-waiting put into place by Boston well before Ryan was chosen for the vice presidential slot. Even so, Ryan has known many of the Romney loyalists for years, in part from joint work on Capitol Hill.
Among the Ryan staffers are Joyce Meyer and Andy Speth, the candidate’s Washington-and Wisconsin-based chiefs of staff, respectively; Speth is also a longtime friend of Ryan’s. Conor Sweeney, spokesman for Ryan’s House Budget Committee, is another member of the inner circle that Ryan brought with him to the campaign.
All three have been involved in helping Ryan make tweaks to his speech along the campaign trail and were among the aides present on Monday at the Holiday Inn Express in Janesville, where Ryan — who typically delivers his stump speech from notes and using a hand-held microphone — rehearsed his convention address and practiced using a teleprompter.
Dan Senor, another top aide who began advising Romney long before Ryan became the nominee, has known Ryan since the two were congressional aides on Capitol Hill in the 1990s. He has served as a Romney foreign policy adviser and is now a top adviser who has worked closely with Ryan on his convention speech.
Ryan’s campaign staff also includes aides assigned to the vice-presidential candidate by Boston, hired without knowing who that candidate would be. As it turns out, the group includes several top staffers from the office of the Ohio Republican Ryan first volunteered for 20 years ago — House Speaker John A. Boehner.
Boehner spokesmen Michael Steel and Brendan Buck are both part of that team, now serving as Ryan’s traveling press secretary and Boston-based spokesman, respectively. David Stewart, a Boehner policy adviser who counseled Romney on economic policy, is now doing so for Ryan. Romney senior adviser Kevin Madden also served as a Boehner spokesman.
Rounding out Ryan’s traveling entourage are trip director Joey Smith and body man Jake Kastan, both of whom moved over to Ryan from Romney’s campaign, as well as director of press advance Brent Swander, a veteran of the McCain 2008 campaign.
That much of Ryan’s team wound up being comprised of staffers who worked closely with Ryan on the Hill was a stroke of luck, in the words of one Romney aide.
“We largely put the team together before we knew who the nominee was,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak about the campaign’s internal workings. “It’s been a tremendous help to have people who know Mr. Ryan, his background, his positions and how they fit into what’s been happening in the House over the past couple of years.”
Ryan, for his part, has described the process as surprisingly easy.
“It’s been a lot less stressful and a lot more fun than I anticipated,” Ryan told Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier in an interview after Monday’s Janesville event, when asked what had been the campaign’s most unexpected aspect. “People said it would drain me. It actually energizes me. So, it’s been a real pleasant surprise.”