MANASSAS, Va. -- The story could have been come from a Cold War-era spy novel: There were sunglasses and baseball caps, decoys and back routes through the woods.
As presidential candidate Mitt Romney settled on his running mate, Paul Ryan, his campaign over the course of 10 days went to extraordinary lengths to conceal the information and meetings between himself and Ryan himself from the eyes of an eager press corps.
The highly secretive search began not long after Romney wrapped up the nomination. On Apr. 16, he announced that Beth Myers, his senior adviser and a longtime aide, would lead his VP search committee. "I had one directive," Myers said in a briefing with reporters on Saturday evening. "That the candidates must be qualified to take office on day one."
Myers spent the next month and a half soliciting advice from those who had been in her shoes, such as Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of State James Baker. By May 1, the inner circle of advisers created their short list and Romney began calling all of the candidates to ask if they would be considered. None refused.
A small team of volunteer attorneys helped Myers assemble the research on the candidates, from policy information to questionnaires each one filled out. The information was kept under lock and key in individual safes in the campaign's Boston headquarters so as not to leak out. That included "several" years of tax returns, Myers told reporters, though she would not specify how many.
By June, Myers was ready to interview the top candidates, and a retreat for top donors in Park City, Utah, provided cover. The short-listers were brought in ostensibly to talk policy with Republican financiers, but also were able to slip away for meetings with Myers. The campaign wouldn't reveal the identities of the others under consideration.
While Romney was vacationing in Wolfeboro, N.H. during the week of July 4, Myers made the trip north with a few advisers with plans to review the final dossiers. Romney postponed a final decision until after his trip abroad at the end of July, and assembled his top advisers for a final "gut check." Romney then informed Myers of his choice on Aug. 1.
"This is Mitt's decision. He gave me direction every step of the way," said Myers, who said she opted not to share her thoughts with Romney on the advice of an old mentor.
The same day, they placed a call from her office to Ryan to arrange a meeting for Sunday, Aug. 5. Romney had not yet extended an offer.
And with that, the Romney campaign's intricate game of cat and mouse was on.
Four days later, Ryan traveled to Chicago from his hometown of Janesville, Wisc., where he flew from to Hartford, Conn. -- both locations chosen to avoid media attention. Having been instructed by the Romney campaign to "dress casually," he wore jeans, a casual shirt, a baseball hat and sunglasses.
In Hartford, Myers' 19-year-old son picked Ryan up at the airport in a rented SUV and brought him to her home in Brookline, Mass., about 100 miles away. A short time later, Romney himself arrived at the house, along with four of his top aides: Ed Gillespie, Matt Rhodes, Bob White, and Spencer Zwick.
While the group entertained itself in Myers' home, Romney and Ryan met for an hour privately in the dining room. When they came out, Myers said, "It was all set."
"We talked about the campaign and how it would be run and talked about how we’d work together if we get the White House," Romney told reporters traveling with him on the plane Saturday night. "What the relationship would be, how we’d interact and be involved in important decisions, but we talked about our families, what this meant for them."
Ryan didn't have to long to focus on his new promotion, however, as word soon spread that a gunman had opened fire at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., which sits in his district. The funeral service for the victims was to be held on Friday, the same day the campaign had planned to announce the vice presidential pick in New Hampshire. Instead, they moved it to the site of the U.S.S. Wisconsin in Norfolk, Va. -- a telling clue.
"This is where it gets a little complicated," Myers told reporters as she recounted the story.
The trick now was to get Ryan and his family to the bus tour kick-off without tipping off the press, including an embedded TV network reporter assigned to follow Ryan's every move.
On Friday, Ryan and his family attended the memorial service for the Sikh temple shootings. After the service his wife Janna and two children made their way to an airport in Waukegan, Ill., while Ryan returned home. To anyone observing the comings and goings at the home, it would have appeared as if Ryan had turned in for the remainder of the day.
Instead, at around 2 p.m., the seven-term congressman walked out the back door of his house and into a wooded area that bordered his property. Ryan had grown up near the woods and knew them well -- crossing through the trees put him in the driveway of his childhood home, the rendezvous point. He quickly made his way through the woods – passing a childhood tree fort he had visited as a child – and was away to Waukegan, where he joined his family on a flight to Elizabeth City, N.C.
Upon landing, the group was taken to a nearby Fairfield Inn where they were met by Myers, her husband and a small group of Romney aides. After a meal of Applebee's, they finished preparing for Ryan's speech the next day, sent out the advisory letting the world know, "and then I turned my phone off," Myers said.
The next morning, Ryan was introduced as Romney's running mate.
“It’s gone from the surreal to the real," Ryan told reporters on the plane after his first full day of campaigning with Romney. "By the time we met in person, I kind of knew it was going to happen and I was very humbled; it was the biggest honor I’ve ever been given in my life.”