MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Campaigning in the heart of NASCAR country, Mitt Romney on Sunday described his new running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, as a man whose “career ambition was not to go to Washington,” despite the fact that the Wisconsin congressman has spent his entire career there.
Speaking at the NASCAR Technical Institute, Romney went through some of Ryan’s biography for a boisterous crowd of more than 1,500, many of whom are just getting to know the new vice presidential candidate. Romney sought to make the argument that Ryan ended up inside the Beltway by accident.
"His career ambition was not to go to Washington,” Romney said. “That is not what he wanted to do, but he became concerned about what was happening in the country and wanted to get America back on track. And so he put aside the plans he had for his career and said, ‘I'm going to go and serve.’”
Ryan's career path doesn't quite gel with the image Romney projected in his speech. As a college student at Miami University in Ohio, he began serving as a staffer for Republican Sen. Bob Kasten. After graduating, he was hired as a speechwriter for Jack Kemp, then a congressman from New York. Ryan, who cited Kemp as a mentor at an event in Manassas, Va., on Saturday, would also work for Kemp's think tank, Empower America, and as a speechwriter on his vice presidential campaign in 1996. He also was a legislative director for then-Sen. Sam Brownback, now governor of Kansas.
Aside from a brief stint working in the marketing department his family's construction company in Janesville, Ryan's life has been almost entirely in government service. He pondered pursuing an economics career with a degree from the University of Chicago, but "just kept getting really interesting jobs," according to National Journal's Almanac of American Politics.
Ryan’s selection has energized many conservatives who view the policy wonk as a leader in the battle to reduce the size of government.
"My wife thought she married the tightest man in the world till she met Paul Ryan. He’s going to be even tighter with your money.” North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr told the crowd before Romney and Ryan took the stage. He went on to say that “Yesterday, America saw hope for the first time in three and a half years,” a nod to the enthusiasm bump that Ryan has provided to Romney’s campaign.
Both men spoke in front of a racecar that had been decorated with the Romney logo, a feat that thrilled the presumptive Republican nominee. He invoked his father George's background as the head of American Motors Corp.
“You see, as a boy, my dad made Ramblers, all right? And I only dreamed of cars like that. To have my name on a car like that, it's just too much," Romney said.
Romney has had trouble relating to NASCAR fans in the past. In February, while attending the Daytona 500, an AP reporter asked whether he follows the sport. Romney’s responded, “Not as closely as some of the most ardent fans. But I have some great friends that are NASCAR team owners” -- an answer that struck some as tone deaf and drew attention to his wealth.
But his new running mate appeared to connect a bit better with the crowd. After expressing his excitement at meeting NASCAR Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip before the event, Ryan told the crowd that a town in his district builds the bodies of five different NASCAR racecars, drawing a roar of approval.