- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. — Becoming the youngest member of the Republican National Committee will place Ashley Ryan firmly within the GOP establishment this week, but the 21-year-old Ron Paul devotee insists her party is about to make a fatal mistake.

Ms. Ryan, a delegate for Mr. Paul, insists the GOP is making the same blunder Democrats made in 2004 when they nominated a “rich guy from Massachusetts,” Sen. John Kerry, to run against President George W. Bush.

“The Republican Party was handed a candidate who could have beaten President Obama hands down,” she said, ticking off a list of reasons she thinks Republicans should support Mr. Paul: he appeals to people of all ages, he preaches a message of personal responsibility, he wants the U.S. to pull out of overseas conflicts.

While most college students are returning to school, Ms. Ryan was at the GOP convention in Tampa, where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Tuesday officially became the party’s presidential nominee and Republicans crafted their platform for the next four years.

As one of two Maine Republicans elected to the national committee last spring, Ms. Ryan has a seat at the table. She begrudgingly admits she’ll support Mr. Romney come November.

A math major at the University of Southern Maine, she initially mocked colleagues when they urged her to run for a position in the state party. She changed her mind two weeks before the convention. She defeated three other contenders for the seat, including incumbent committeewoman Jan Staples.

It helped that she had the backing of the Ron Paul supporters, who hold a strong presence in Maine and made up a large contingent at the convention. Eric Brakey, the state director for the Paul campaign, said he watched Ms. Ryan easily connect with Romney backers as well.

“I saw her shaking hands, talking to people, talking to people outside the zone of Ron Paul Republicans, talking to Mitt Romney Republicans,” said Mr. Brakey, who at 24 is not much older than Ms. Ryan. “She’s got a lot of crossover.”

But there’s no doubt where Ms. Ryan’s strongest allegiance lies. Like many in the wave of young people Mr. Paul attracted over the last few years, she comes across as a true believer in the libertarian-minded Texas congressman, quick to list his continuous calls for auditing the Federal Reserve and bringing American troops home from overseas as some of her own top priorities.

She has met him once, in August 2011, where she persuaded him to sign a gift card to her favorite restaurant, the Texas-based fast food chain Whataburger.

Dr. Paul, you’re my favorite thing from Texas and Whataburger is my second favorite thing. Would you sign my gift card?” she asked him.

In response, Mr. Paul asked her whether his signature would depreciate the value of the card.

“He’s wicked funny,” she said.

She spoke to thousands of Paul supporters at a rally in Tampa on Sunday afternoon, where she criticized recent rule changes adopted by the committee that could transfer power away from local parties and urged the audience to stay involved in local politics.

“I say we all make a commitment right now to get involved and stay involved at the local level,” she said.

Ms. Ryan is accompanied to the convention by 23 other delegates from Maine, most of whom are Paul supporters. His backers had petitioned the party to give him a prominent speaking role at the convention, but Mr. Paul refused to agree to the conditions offered by the Romney campaign, which included endorsing him for president.

Like many Ron Paul supporters, Ms. Ryan is so enthusiastic about her candidate that she’s still reluctant to admit that Mr. Romney will be the nominee, even though he has pocketed more than enough delegates.

“I’d like to think that there is still a chance it could be Ron Paul,” she said.

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