By Stephanie Griffith (AFP) – Aug 29, 2012
TAMPA, Florida — People in Washington know Paul Ryan as a number-crunching budget hawk who has been leading a ruthless crusade in Congress to rein in government spending and slash the deficit.
They are less familiar with the other Paul Ryan: the Irish-Catholic backwoods boy from Janesville, Wisconsin who hunts with a bow and whose favorite past time is "noodling" -- hunting catfish with his bare hands.
Ryan, 42, who was tapped this month to be former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's running-mate, takes center stage with the prime-time role Wednesday at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.
He is to deliver the most important speech of his life -- one he hopes will not only show the American public that he is equipped to hold the demanding VP job, but that he is a likeable sideman and complement to the sometimes stiff Romney.
Despite working for most of his adult life in Washington, Ryan played up his country boy appeal at a Wisconsin homecoming rally after Romney selected him for the ticket.
"My veins run with cheese, bratwurst, a little Spotted Cow, Leinie's and some Miller," he said, rattling off the names of favorite local beers.
"I like to hunt here, I like to fish here, I like to snowmobile here. I even think ice fishing is interesting."
Romney, whose father served as governor of Michigan and made his own brief presidential run in 1968, attended posh boarding schools in his youth and has enjoyed fabulous wealth nearly all his life.
Ryan is a fifth generation resident of Janesville, and while he comes from a prominent family that has run a construction company for decades, he has lived there all his life and continues to reside on the street where he grew up.
A devout Catholic, his immigrant ancestors fled the Irish potato famine in the 1850s and settled in Wisconsin.
Since he was named to the Republican ticket, the Romney campaign has played up Ryan's blue-collar Midwestern outdoorsman roots and his hard-scrabble childhood. Paul's father died when he was just 16.
But that's a side of Ryan that few Americans know -- assuming they know much at all about the intense, policy-wonk lawmaker.
He also is an avid fitness devotee, and leads a class of likeminded exercise buffs in a grueling workout in Congress.
Lean and toned, shirtless photos of the seven-term congressman's sculpted physique and six-pack abs have circulated the Internet.
But in the nation's capital he has come to be known for his Ryan plan, a proposal to overhaul the budget that critics have said would decimate social welfare programs, especially Medicare health coverage for the elderly.
The House Budget Committee chairman who is pledging a once-a-generation debate about the direction of the economy believes fiscal prudence begins at home.
As a sign of just how devoted he is to thrift, he is said to sleep on a couch in his congressional office, rather than renting a Washington house or apartment as most lawmakers do.
Ryan's father died when he was in high school, and the loss turned the teenager into an introspective, serious student who held odd jobs, joined the Latin and history clubs in school and became versed in supply-side economics.
He pored over books by conservative icon Ayn Rand, who was one of his biggest inspirations, but has recently distanced himself from her writings because he is a staunch Catholic while the libertarian Rand was a convinced Atheist.
In the 1990s, Ryan's pluck, determination and understanding of economic issues helped him ascend the Washington power ladder.
He moved quickly from lowly staffer jobs to speech writer for revered Republican Jack Kemp -- himself a VP candidate in 1996 -- and then became an aide to senator Sam Brownback.
"There are people in Washington who when you meet them you know they are headed for something big," Brian Hart, who worked with Ryan in Brownback's office, told The New York Times. "That was Paul."
In 1998, at age 28, he was elected to Congress, and again rose quickly through the ranks. By 2004 he set about trying to privatize Social Security, the government safety net for retirees. While his bid stalled, it presaged the caustic debates over entitlement programs that were to follow.
Ryan's wife, Janna, comes from a long line of Democratic royalty, but being from opposing political camps turned out not to be an impediment to love and marriage for the pair. She gave up a promising career as an attorney to raise their three young children: Elizabeth, Charles and Samuel.
Asked what Romney should know about her husband, Janna told People magazine this month: "You know, he's pretty low-maintenance.
"Paul is someone who goes with the flow and has one of the sunniest demeanors and most positive outlooks of anyone I've ever met. So I'd say Mitt'll probably have a lot of fun with him."
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