Paul Ryan, center, works en route to Tampa, Fla., on the speech he will deliver… (Mary Altaffer, Associated…)
Among the most common adjectives used by supporters to describe Rep. Paul D. Ryan are "genuine" and "principled."
"He's real," said supporter Tim Stephens as he lingered after a Ryan speech outside Philadelphia, bursting with bromance for the Republican vice presidential hopeful. ("I love you, man!" he shouted as Ryan shook hands in the crowd.) "That's what he brings to the ticket. Paul Ryan's real."
It's an important part of Ryan's appeal, along with intellectual heft, a gym rat's physique and a boyish charm that belies his 42 years.
In the last two weeks, however, that sense of unshakable conviction has been put to the test as Ryan — who speaks at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night — has been forced to modify his positions on such key issues as abortion, Medicare and military spending, subsuming his own beliefs to those of his running mate and new boss, Mitt Romney.
It is a conundrum that faces almost every candidate for vice president, and opens them to attacks from opponents. President Obama's campaign has tried to tar Ryan as a hypocrite — and shift the debate in the race away from the Republicans' preferred issue, the economy.
"Today, Paul Ryan once again demonstrated that he's been co-opted by Mitt Romney after flip-flopping on his own record," Obama spokesman Danny Kanner said one day recently after Ryan had spoken out on two issues — China policy and stimulus spending — that led to charges that he had changed his views.
Confronted with questions about his changes in position, Ryan has been steadfast in his answer: Romney is at the top of the ticket, so his policies rule.
"No two people agree on every single issue," he told reporters on his campaign plane. He and Romney may disagree on the details, but "share the same principles."
The Democratic critique is based largely on the presumption that Ryan's well-known policies, especially on the federal budget, would become Romney's policies as well. This was in part because Ryan's views had been spelled out in much greater specificity.
Romney, however, moved quickly to squelch such talk, insisting that if anyone was going to modify positions, it would be Ryan, not him.
"Congressman Ryan has joined my campaign, and his campaign is my campaign now," Romney told "CBS This Morning" shortly after the choice was announced. "We're on exactly the same page."
If that has put Ryan in an uncomfortable position, he hasn't shown it. Nevertheless, it has led to questions about his position on:
• Medicare. The Ryan budget passed by the Republican-led House included $716 billion in cuts to Medicare. This was the same amount proposed by Obama to help fund his healthcare plan, which Ryan's budget would scrap. In Ryan's budget, the savings would go to reducing the deficit.
But Romney has promised not to touch Medicare spending, and Ryan has been put in the position of attacking Obama for cuts that he essentially endorsed.
"Medicare should not be a piggy bank for Obamacare," he says in his stump speech.
• Military spending. Ryan voted to raise the national debt ceiling as part of a congressional deal with Obama that led to a controversial plan to set up automatic federal budget cuts of $1.2 trillion — about half coming in defense spending — that would go into effect in January 2013 if Congress and the administration couldn't find a better solution for deficit reduction.
Romney and Ryan are now attacking Obama for that plan, saying it would lead to — as Ryan says repeatedly — "reckless and devastating defense cuts."
He has insisted that he never supported the defense cuts. "We disagreed with that then and we disagree with it now," he said Thursday at a defense industry panel discussion in Fayetteville, N.C.
• Abortion. Ryan, who is Roman Catholic, has been a strong opponent of abortion in nearly all cases, and would like to see exceptions only when the life of the mother is threatened.
In a 2010 essay in a Heritage Foundation publication, Ryan explained the roots of his opposition, saying: "The freedom to choose is pointless for someone who does not have the freedom to live. So the right of 'choice' of one human being cannot trump the right to 'life' of another."
Romney, however, believes that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape and incest, as well as to save the life of the mother. Ryan now says that would be his policy too.
Challenged about the differences during an impromptu news conference on his campaign plane, he said, "Look, I'm proud of my record." But, he added: "Mitt Romney is going to be the president; the president sets policy. His policy is exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother. I'm comfortable with it because it's a good step in the right direction. I'll leave it at that."