CHARLOTTE--Just hours before word broke that Mitt Romney would name his vice-presidential running mate on Saturday, Paul Ryan waved to reporters camped outside his home in Janesville, Wis., as he headed inside for the evening—or so the media thought.
Just minutes later, the Wisconsin congressman quickly sneaked out his back door, escaping into a forest behind his house where he had played as a child in hopes of eluding reporters who had trailed his every movement for days. "I grew up in those woods," Ryan recalled on Saturday. "The house I grew up in backs up to the house I live in now so I know those woods like the back of my hand."
Paul briskly walked through a gully, past the tree where he had built a tree fort as a child, and toward the driveway of his childhood home. There, waiting in a car, was Andy Speth, Ryan's chief of staff and his closest adviser. Within seconds, Ryan had jumped in the car and the two sped away, heading towards a tiny airport just over the Illinois border from Wisconsin, where his wife and three young kids were already waiting.
Soon, the family was boarding a private jet headed toward Elizabeth City, N.C., a town just an hour from Norfolk, Va., where Ryan would be formally unveiled as Romney's VP pick on Saturday morning. It was among the last steps in Romney's highly coordinated but intensely secretive search for a running mate. It was a quest that left even some of Romney's closest friends and aides in dark until the final hours before Ryan's name was announced.
The search began in May, just after Romney unofficially clinched the Republican nomination. Beth Myers, the longtime Romney aide who led the GOP candidate's search, told reporters Saturday she and the former Massachusetts governor came up with a short list of potential candidates early in the search—though she declined to say exactly who. Romney then phoned each of the candidates to see if they would be willing to go through the vetting—a process all of those asked agreed to, according to Myers.
At Romney's direction, Myers moved quickly to get the vetting operation in place, as the candidate strongly considered going against tradition and announcing a VP pick early in the summer. She hired a team of lawyers and reserved secure office space in Boston, featuring a room with a safe where the campaign kept its dossiers of financial and other personal information provided by its VP hopefuls. According to Myers, no copies were made of the material and the paperwork was not allowed to leave the room—not even when Romney read the material.
While Romney ultimately decided to delay his pick until after his trip to the Olympics, Myers continued full speed ahead on the VP search. She met with the potential VPs, including at a donor retreat in Park City, Utah, sponsored by the campaign in late June, seeking "clarification" on issues raised by their dossiers.
At the same time, Romney sought input from his senior staff and close friends about their thoughts on the VP process. Along the way, he campaigned with many of those on his short list, including Ryan.
But the presumptive Republican nominee didn't finalize his decision until Aug. 1—the day after he returned from his rocky overseas trip to Europe and Israel. In a meeting with Myers at his vacation home in Wolfeboro, N.H., Romney told his top aide he had settled on Ryan, with whom he had bonded when the two campaigned together ahead of the Wisconsin primary in April. He asked Myers to arrange a face-to-face meeting with the congressman.
On Aug. 5—the day before Romney began protective pool coverage with his traveling press corps, the campaign arranged for a discreet meeting between Romney and his then-potential VP.
"We gave a lot of thought on how to make this work," Myers said.
The campaign decided to fly Ryan from Chicago's O'Hare airport to Hartford, Conn.--where Myers arranged for him to be picked up by the person least likely to stoke suspicion among reporters trying to break the VP story: her 19-year-old son, Curt. Driving a rented sports utility vehicle, he ferried Ryan, who was dressed in jeans, a baseball hat and sunglasses, to Myers' home in Brookline, Mass., pulling into the garage so the congressman could exit the car without being seen by the public.
The congressman then had lunch with Myers and her family—as a pared-down Secret Service motorcade drove Romney from Wolfeboro to Myers' home. Upon arrival, the presumptive Republican nominee met with Ryan alone in Myers' dining room.
"We talked about the campaign and how it would be run and about how we'd work together if we get the White House, what the relationship would be and how we would interact," Romney told reporters on Saturday. "We talked about our families (and) what this meant for them, the challenge it meant."
Ryan accepted the job, and Romney headed back to New Hampshire, having successfully avoided media detection for 90 minutes. But before Ryan left, tragedy struck back home in his district, where a gunman opened fire at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek. Ryan quickly issued a statement on the shooting—not mentioning he was nowhere near Capitol Hill or in Wisconsin.
On Monday, Romney began reaching out to the VP hopefuls he rejected, including former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty--who was the first to learn from Romney that he was not his VP pick. At the same time, Romney aides began planning a vice presidential announcement in New Hampshire for Friday—plans that were scuttled at the last minute when Wisconsin officials announced a memorial for members of the Sikh temple shooting that Ryan couldn't miss.
According to Myers, Romney aides moved quickly to find another spot—settling on the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk—a site that was an obvious hint to the press corps, according to Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom, but failed to gain notice. On Friday, the campaign flew the Ryans into the Elizabeth City airport—hoping the airport was small enough that no one would spot Ryan and recognize him.
Both Ryan and Romney landed around 6 p.m.--Ryan in North Carolina and Romney in Virginia. Myers, who was on the plane with Romney, told reporters she was going to visit family in the area, but instead drove to Elizabeth City, where she and the Ryans ate takeout from Applebee's for dinner in their rooms at a local Fairfield Inn.
Shortly after 11 p.m. on Friday, the campaign publicly announced Romney would unveil his VP on Saturday morning. Her job finished, Myers turned off her phone and promptly went to sleep.