LEXINGTON, Ky. -– Usually when he lands at an airport, GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan is welcomed by some SUVs and maybe a smattering of local press.
But when he touched down Wednesday evening in Kentucky, he was greeted by his wife, his mother, and a couple hundred supporters, who pressed against a barrier to get a better look. (Oh, and his favorite AC/DC music blaring on loudspeakers.)
Many in the crowd were holding posters with photos of Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden that promised a boxing-match-style “Thrill in the Ville.”
It’s all about putting the candidate in the right frame of mind for Thursday night’s debate with Biden at Centre College in Danville.
With the Republican campaign riding high after a clear win in the Oct. 3 presidential debate between GOP nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama, the pressure is on Ryan to keep the momentum going.
PHOTOS: Memorable presidential debate moments
Earlier in the day, at an ice cream store in St. Petersburg, Fla., Ryan was asked if he had “butterflies” about the debate.
“This is my first time so sure, it’s a nervous situation because Joe Biden is one of the most experienced debaters we have in modern politics,” Ryan said as he ordered a cup of Moose Tracks ice cream. (He is a hunter, after all.) “Joe Biden’s been on these big stages before…. But what he can’t run from is President Obama’s indefensible record.”
(Ryan also challenged reporters to stop lobbing “softball” questions at him, but when he was asked about his abortion position, he demurred.)
After three days of debate prep in Virginia last week, Ryan had spent Tuesday out of the public eye, in the swanky Vinoy Renaissance, a historic Mediterranean revival-style hotel on the western edge of Tampa Bay. There, holed up with advisors, he prepped with former U.S. Solicitor Gen. Ted Olson, a top litigator who plays Biden in their mock debates.
But he’d also gotten a chance to get some sun, he said. “I haven’t gotten a chance to spend much time outdoors so I’ve done some mountain biking in the last couple of months, but I got a chance to do some reading outside which was very relaxing.”
PHOTOS: Paul Ryan's past
In an interview with CNN on Monday, Romney raised a few eyebrows when he said he had no idea how much debate experience his running mate had. (Ryan has had at least eight debates with his four Democratic opponents since 1998 when he first ran for Congress.)
“Well, I’m sure he probably didn’t watch my debates,” Ryan said Wednesday.
Though the Romney campaign has consistently downplayed Ryan’s debate experience, Ryan is at ease in the spotlight.
A conservative darling with a considerably higher national profile than most of his colleagues, he has yet to be knocked off his stride on the campaign trail. The other day in Michigan, he expressed mild disapproval of a question posed by a TV reporter in Flint, but unlike the far looser Biden, he has demonstrated a superior ability to stay on message.
Ryan, 42, has been in Congress for 14 years, and is no stranger to the back-and-forth of legislative arguments or Sunday news shows. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, he proposed the “Ryan budget,” a blueprint for tackling the deficit by reducing taxes and restructuring Medicare. (Newt Gingrich made news during the Republican presidential primary when he called Ryan’s budget “right-wing social engineering.”)
In 2010, Ryan politely but firmly contradicted President Obama on his proposed healthcare reform law during a conference-style summit.
DEBATE QUIZ: Who said it?
Biden, 69, was first elected to the U.S. Senate 40 years ago. A former chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees, he has run for president twice, and memorably debated Sarah Palin in 2008. A garrulous politician who has a tendency to ramble and express his thoughts in an impolitic manner, Biden nevertheless pulled off a much-praised debate performance with Palin. Many Democrats worried that he would come across as condescending or patronizing, but he avoided the trap by focusing his criticisms on Palin’s boss, John McCain.
Ryan may well do the same. Asked to name Biden’s greatest weakness. Without missing a beat, Ryan said, “Barack Obama’s record.”
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