DES MOINES, Iowa – Paul Ryan took to the stage here at the Iowa State Fair on Monday afternoon in his first solo appearance as the Republican vice presidential candidate—and got a rocky introduction to life on the national stage.
It was to be a chance for Ryan (Wisc.) to prove his chops as presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s attack dog, a moment for him to come out swinging against President Obama, who also happens to be visiting the Hawkeye State in a three-day campaign trip this week.
Instead, the headline coming out of the fair visit was the disruption caused by about a half-dozen protesters, some of whom rushed the stage and the rest of whom shouted down the candidate for the entirety of his remarks.
Ryan – who has never run statewide in Wisconsin, let along in a national campaign –appeared to handle the pandemonium in stride, continuing on with his stump speech without teleprompters or notes, even as detractors yelled at him from several yards away.
The stakes were high for Ryan’s speech here, his first since parting with running-mate Romney in Wisconsin on Sunday night.
It was also a chance for Ryan to do some old-fashioned retail politicking -- shaking hands with supporters, kissing babies and sampling food ranging from fried butter to porkchop-on-a-stick at an event that has become a staple for any political candidate visiting this key swing state.
Things appeared to be going well as Ryan made his way up the main
drag, swarmed by well-wishers of all ages.
“What’s your name?” he asked one young woman, who told him her name was Sarah.
“Hi Sarah! I’m Paul,” Ryan responded, shaking her hand. He then made a friendly gesture to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R), who was making the walk with him: “This is your governor, Terry Branstad.”
As the crowd neared the stage, the atmosphere could not have been more festive -- or more typical of the down-home political culture Iowa is known for. Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), who was with Branstad and several other officials accompanying Ryan, at one point stopped in her tracks as she recognized two familiar faces in the crowd.
“Mom! Dad! Hi!” she said, giving the couple a hug. She then turned back to reporters and grinned: “This is Iowa! Welcome.”
But no sooner than Ryan took the stage than a small group of protesters at the front of the crowd – some holding Romney signs – began yelling at the newly-minted vice-presidential candidate.
“Are you going to cut Medicare?” a woman a few yards in front of Ryan screamed.
Soon after, a few women attempted to storm the stage, yelling and
climbing on top of the bales of hay in front of it before they were
“These ladies must not be from Iowa or Wisconsin,” Ryan told the crowd as he sought to regain his footing.
Suddenly another protester began screaming.
“Stop the war on the middle class!” yelled an older, bespectacled man
with a white beard. Chaos erupted at the
front of the crowd, and several Romney supporters rushed to where the
man was standing and held up Romney signs in an attempt to block him from yelling down Ryan.
“Just laugh at him,” one woman told a friend who had begun yelling
back at the man.
“Jesus,” another woman sighed.
Through it all, Ryan maintained his cool – even though his remarks
were drowned out for those at the front of the crowd by all of the
As the pandemonium in the audience continued, Republican National
Committee Chairman Reince Priebus stood next to reporters in the crowd to Ryan’s left and watched it all unfold; Branstad, Reynolds, Sen.
Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who had greeted Ryan at the fair, stood in the crowd to Ryan’s right.
Ryan wrapped up his speech even as the hecklers continued, then made a quick exit from the fair as his campaign heads to Colorado for a closed-door fundraiser Monday night and a rally Tuesday morning.
Several of those who came to see Ryan said they thought the candidate dealt well with the chaotic scene.
“He’s got to deal with that all the time,” said Mike Warin, a
48-year-old pilot from Pella, Iowa, who had come to the fair with his
family. “He was a pretty cool customer.”