Newly minted vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan hit the stump this weekend with a level of energy that seemed to boost Mitt Romney's entire campaign, giving the presumptive nominee a much-needed change in the narrative while adding another high-profile fundraiser and campaigner to deploy across the country.
It got off to an inauspicious start, though.
When Mr. Ryan was first introduced Saturday in Norfolk, Va., walking down the gangplank of the USS Wisconsin with the theme of the movie "Air Force One" playing in the background, Mr. Romney got a little ahead of himself, introducing Mr. Ryan as "the next president of the United States."
Mr. Romney quickly corrected the slip-up, saying he had been known to make mistakes, "but I didn't make one with this guy."
Mr. Ryan showed a clear ability to connect with voters and infuse Mr. Romney's campaign with, quite literally, a dash of youthful energy. At 42, Mr. Ryan is the same age as Mr. Romney's eldest son, Tagg.
The two men campaigned together through Virginia, North Carolina and Wisconsin, with Mr. Ryan introducing himself to the nation, showing an easy comfort when greeting supporters and firing up crowds by attacking President Obama's policies and talking up his man at the top of the GOP ticket.
He accused Mr. Obama's campaign of going from a 2008 run based on "hope and change" to one of "attack and blame."
"We're not going to fall for it," Mr. Ryan told a cheering crowd in High Point, N.C.
And while Mr. Romney was pilloried earlier in the campaign for casually mentioning that he had a few friends who were NASCAR team owners, Mr. Ryan appeared thrilled just to meet one of the NASCAR drivers on Sunday.
"This is awesome," he told a crowd of 10,000-plus at the Absolute Style furniture company in High Point after exchanging high-fives with some people on the way to the event. "I just had a great experience, and that is — I got to meet Darrell Waltrip. That was pretty cool."
The mood also got to Mr. Romney, whose public persona can come across as a bit staid or "square," but who was clearly energized by his running mate and the responses from overflow crowds at the weekend rallies.
"I am so happy! I am so happy to have my teammate now," he told cheering supporters in Mooresville, N.C., on Sunday.
When the crowd interrupted Mr. Romney's prepared remarks with chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A," the former Massachusetts governor went off his script to join in and pump his fist in the air as Mr. Ryan did the same.
With Mr. Ryan's selection — which came earlier in the season than either of the selections in 2008 — the Republican ticket now has a second weapon to raise funds and to deploy as a major surrogate, the way the Obama campaign has used Vice President Joseph R. Biden.
"We're going to split up, more often than not, and double our efforts," Mr. Ryan said in a joint interview with Mr. Romney on Sunday's "60 Minutes." "It was one against two for a while — now it's two against two. We're going to redouble our efforts, and we're going to bring a message to the country: 'Here's how you get the country back on track.' "
After the weekend with Mr. Romney, Mr. Ryan will campaign solo at the Iowa State Fair on Monday, getting a chance to test his Midwest appeal when he takes a turn at the fair's soapbox, according to Iowa press reports.
Next weekend, Mr. Ryan will campaign in Florida, home to a large population of seniors — the kinds of voters Democrats say could be put off by the House Budget Committee chairman's plans to alter Medicare. Mr. Romney, however, said any changes wouldn't affect current seniors or those close to retiring.
"What Paul Ryan and I have talked about is saving Medicare, is providing people greater choice in Medicare, making sure it's there for current seniors," he said in the interview.
"No changes, by the way, for current seniors, or those nearing retirement. But looking for young people down the road and saying, 'We're going to give you a bigger choice.' In America, the nature of this country has been giving people more freedom, more choices. That's how we make Medicare work down the road," he said.
The Romney campaign is already grappling with how to square Mr. Ryan's extensive voting record and his budget plans with Mr. Romney's own stances, with campaign aides stressing to reporters that Mr. Romney is the top of the ticket.
Mr. Ryan also marched in tune with Mr. Romney on the matter of tax returns, saying on "60 Minutes" that he had turned over "several" years of tax returns to the Romney campaign as part of the vetting process, but that he would publicly release two — the same number Mr. Romney has.
The former Massachusetts governor has received pressure to release more. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has gone as far as accusing Mr. Romney, publicly and without proof, of going 10 years without paying any taxes.
"What I hear from people around this country — they're not asking, 'Where are the tax returns?' " Mr. Ryan said. "They're asking where the jobs are; where's the economic growth? Those are the issues that matter."
Earlier in the weekend jaunt, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan again appeared to feed off one another in a marginally successful effort to purchase pies at Homemades by Suzanne, a shop in Ashland, Va., which another vice-presidential candidate — Sarah Palin — also visited on the campaign trail in 2008.
Mr. Romney walked to the counter and asked what kind of pies they had. Blueberry? Rhubarb? No.
Mr. Romney glanced at the press corps as he was waiting for his apple, pecan and chocolate pies, urging a woman working behind the counter, "C'mon, push through there."
Mr. Ryan instantly piled on — with an odd combination of nerdiness, politeness, and feigned outrage.
"Are they messing with their pie-making business here?" he said. "You guys are getting in the way of commerce."
The two already have somewhat of a culinary history: They ate hamburgers together when they campaigned earlier this year. Mr. Ryan was also in on an April Fools' Day joke when he introduced Mr. Romney (rather than vice versa) as "the next president of the United States" to a practically empty room.
On the other hand, Crenshaw Gymnasium at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland was so packed that the two actually hosted an impromptu rally afterward before an estimated 500 to 800 people who could not make it in but were still desperate to catch a glimpse of the 2012 GOP ticket.
Standing on two wooden crates, the two men were practically doppelgangers in matching outfits of white shirts, gray pants and no ties.
Mr. Romney had taken off the blue-and-white patterned tie he was wearing earlier at the bakery.
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David Sherfinski covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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