At a vigil for the six Sikhs killed in Oak Creek, last week, local Congressman Paul Ryan stood on the stage with a scarf covering his head. “Who is that?” a woman in the audience said to her friend. “Some senator.” When told that was “Congressman Ryan”, both women looked a little guilty.
A week later, that man became presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s pick for vice-president. Though polls show public recall of Ryan is low, he has fired up the race.
Commentators said they now see a spring in Romney’s steps. Republicans — from the extreme right Tea Party to moderates — have welcomed the pick, gushing about him. “I think Ryan has that Reagan-like quality,” said conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer on Fox News. Former President Ronald Reagan is god in Republican mythology.
The 42-year-old Ryan, a father of three, is everything Romney couldn’t be: unabashedly conservative, decisive and, significant for anyone seeking public office, a crowd puller. He is also immensely likable, say those who know him.
That’s why the Obama campaign has reacted warily. The president called him a decent, family man — anything else would have been jarring given the man’s popularity — with whom he doesn’t agree on many issues. Obama’s political adviser and strategist David Axelrod called Ryan a “bright” and “genial guy”, who is a “certifiable right-wing ideologue”.