A seven-term congressman, Paul Ryan is well-known — and well-regarded — in Washington circles as an articulate and passionate advocate of fiscal responsibility and limited government. But for many Americans, the 42-year-old Wisconsin lawmaker, named this weekend as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate, is a relative unknown.
In a poll taken last week by CNN, 54 percent of respondents said they didn’t know enough to form an opinion, good or bad, about the congressman, first elected to the House in 1998 at the age of 28.
Mr. Ryan still lives in Janesville, Wis., where he was born and raised as the youngest of four children. Graduating from Ohio’s Miami University with a degree in economics and political science in 1992, Mr. Ryan came to Washington to work for then-Sen. Bob Kasten, Wisconsin Republican, for whom he’d interned while in college.
He later worked as a speechwriter for Jack Kemp and as a legislative director for then-Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican, before launching his own political career in 1998 by winning his home state’s open 1st Congressional District seat.
Since that first contest, when he pulled in 57 percent of the vote, he’s won re-election handily every two years in the southeast Wisconsin district, chalking up at least 63 percent of the vote in each election.
The vice presidential nominee’s wife, Janna, a lawyer, and their three young children — Elizabeth Anne, 10; Charles Wilson, 8; and Samuel Lowery, 7 — joined Mr. Ryan on the campaign trail this weekend, appearing on stage for Saturday’s announcement in Norfolk, Va., and traveling by bus with Mr. Romney to stops in Virginia and North Carolina.
Mr. Ryan, who is worth between $1.5 million and $4.3 million, according to his latest financial-disclosure forms, is expected to help shore up Mr. Romney’s support among blue-collar voters in the Midwest and among the fiscal hawks in the tea party, who admire the young congressman despite his votes in favor of the Bush administration’s prescription-drug benefit and the TARP bailout.
Now chairman of the House Budget Committee, the Wisconsin Catholic acknowledged in a recent profile in the New Yorker that he was “miserable” during the Bush years, voting with the Republican leadership that added trillions to the national debt.
That experience, he said, convinced him to “to do everything I can to make sure I don’t feel that misery again.”
He emerged as a new leader of the GOP in 2008 with his own financial blueprint to bring federal spending under control, his original “Roadmap for America’s Future,” which has since been revised several times and is commonly referred to as “the Ryan budget.”
The detailed plan of spending cuts and entitlement reforms is derided by Democrats, including President Obama, and even some Republicans — Newt Gingrich called it “right-wing social engineering” during the GOP primaries — but the budget proposals have made the Wisconsin congressman a hero among fiscal conservatives.
In the New Yorker interview, he pushed back against those who have tried to paint his views on tightening the federal budget as draconian.
“Obama is trying to paint us as a caricature,” he said. “As if we’re some bizarre individualists who are hard-core libertarians. It’s a false dichotomy and intellectually lazy.” He added, “Of course, we believe in government. We think government should do what it does really well, but that it has limits, and obviously within those limits are things like infrastructure, interstate highways and airports.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.