(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite )
TAMPA, Fla. – On the night that Paul D. Ryan was making his debut at the Republican convention, the stage was given to three vice presidential runners-up.
Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota was first up among the three, followed a little later by Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota.
They were among those reported to have been under consideration for the VP spot. Their appearances provided a view of the top tier of the GOP – and the running-mate choices available to Mitt Romney.
Thune kicked off the speeches with a stately, if serious, critique of President Obama – particularly the administration's approach to regulations on clean air and water that Republicans say are excessive and have stunted economic growth.
A Romney administration would be different from day one, he said.
"Gone will be the attitude that government knows best and solves all," said Thune, a second-term senator.
At 6 feet, 4 inches, Thune said he's still waiting for an invitation to a game of hoops from Obama – jabbing that his advantage would be knowing the president is "always going to go to his left."
Portman, respected as a former White House budget director, gave nod to the turn of events that put him on stage before Ryan.
"They say I was on Gov. Romney's short list," Portman said. "Apparently, it wasn't short enough."
But it was Pawlenty, the publicly reserved former governor, who let loose.
"President Obama isn't as bad as people say, he's actually worse," Pawlenty said to applause.
"I've come to realize that Barack Obama is the tattoo president. Like a big tattoo, it seemed cool when we were young."
In praising Romney's choice of Ryan as the vice presidential pick, Pawlenty took a swipe at Vice President Joe Biden.
"I hear Joe's particularly interested in tonight's proceedings," he said. "When Paul Ryan speaks, Joe will finally get to hear what a real vice president sounds like."
From the convention floor, the cheers were many.
[FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of the post said Sen. John Thune represents North Dakota. He represents South Dakota.]