Rep. Paul D. Ryan and Mitt Romney visit supporters before a North Carolina… (Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images )
WAUKESHA, Wis. — Paul D. Ryan returned to his native state Sunday to enjoy an exuberant and emotional homecoming as the new Republican vice presidential pick — a man who was born and raised in Wisconsin, has represented it in Congress for seven terms and hopes to flip it into the GOP column in November.
Thousands of supporters roared when Ryan and the man who selected him, unofficial Republican nominee Mitt Romney, walked off a campaign bus as soaring music played in the background. Ryan wiped tears from his eyes as he took the stage.
"Wisconsin, it is good to be home! I tell you, I love Wisconsin," Ryan said, noting that he is a fifth-generation resident whose ancestors arrived in the 1800s. He added that he lives on the same block where he grew up, "with about 10 other Ryan families within about eight blocks."
"My veins run with cheese, bratwurst, and a little Spotted Cow, Leiney's and some Miller," he said to laughter, listing Wisconsin-made beers. "I was raised on the Packers, Badgers, Bucks and Brewers. I like to hunt here, I like to fish here, to snowmobile here; I even think ice fishing is interesting. I'm a Wisconsinite through and through, and I just got to tell you how much this means to be home."
Apart from the emotional impact, there was political potential as well. Barack Obama won the state by nearly 14 percentage points in 2008, and still reliably leads in 2012 polls. Still, Republicans are optimistic about their prospects here because an attempted recall of Republican Gov. Scott Walker failed this year, and because of Ryan's addition to the GOP ticket.
Ryan said Walker's victory was telling.
"What we learned in this state a little while ago is we want to elect men and women who run for office and tell us who they really are, what they really believe, what they're really going to do, and when they get elected, they do that!" he boomed. "That's what we do here in Wisconsin."
Voters in the crowd said Romney's selection of Ryan gave them more confidence in the Republican candidate.
Don Hilbig was sitting on a hay bale not far from the rally stage wearing a green "Paul Ryan for Congress" T-shirt. The faded shirt was more than a decade old — the retired psychotherapist got it while working on Ryan's first congressional campaign.
"He's my guy," Hilbig said. Aspects of Romney's record gave him pause, he said. "We'd just like him to be a tad more conservative."
Since announcing Ryan as his running mate, Romney has seen some of the largest crowds of his campaign; earlier Sunday, the duo was greeted by thousands in North Carolina.
The reaction since the Saturday announcement underscored that Romney and his campaign are navigating a familiar path for candidates whose running mates are popular with the party base: trying to harness the enthusiasm without being utterly usurped by the newcomer. In Romney's case, there was an added desire to create some distance from some of the more controversial positions held by Ryan, who gained notice for a budget plan that pushed Medicare toward privatization for younger Americans.
Romney, in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," declared that he would call the shots.
"I have my budget plan, as you know, that I've — I've put out," he said. "And that's the budget plan that we're going to run on."
In his first public remarks about the Republican ticket, President Obama did his best to tie the two men together.
"My opponent and Congressman Ryan and their allies in Congress, they all believe that if we just get rid of more regulations on big corporations and we give more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, it will lead to jobs and prosperity for everybody else," Obama said at a Chicago fundraiser. "They have tried to sell us this trickle-down fairy dust before, and guess what? It didn't work."
Romney sought to blunt any conflict between his selection of Washington veteran Ryan and his previous — and untrue — criticism of Obama as never holding a nongovernment job, and therefore failing to understand the economy.
Ryan's "career ambition was not to go to Washington. That is not what he wanted to do," Romney said in Mooresville, N.C. "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 history suggests otherwise. He majored in political science in college, began interning for a Wisconsin senator's Washington office while in college, and has spent most of his adult life working in the nation's capital. He did move back to Wisconsin for two years to work in his family's business before he ran for Congress in 1998.
Starting Monday, the Republicans plan to campaign separately. Romney will head to Florida without Ryan, whose Medicare proposal could cause problems among the state's large senior population. But the campaign pushed back at the notion that Ryan was avoiding Florida because of the issue, and announced late in the day that he would visit the state next weekend.
"My mom is a Medicare senior in Florida," Ryan said on "60 Minutes." "Our point is we need to preserve their benefits, because government made promises to them that they've organized their retirements around. In order to make sure we can do that, you must reform it for those of us who are younger."
On Monday, Ryan will go head-to-head with Obama in Iowa, where he will visit the state fair while Obama starts a multiday bus tour.
Monique Garcia in Chicago and Times staff writer Kate Linthicum in Waukesha contributed to this report.