WASHINGTON: Paul Ryan has made a startling rise in the past four years from a relatively obscure congressman representing southern Wisconsin to the darling of conservative thinkers and now Mitt Romney’s choice as the Republican candidate for vice president.
He’s done it with hustle, affability and a sweeping manifesto that Republicans in Congress have embraced as their vision for the future.
Ryan, a fit 42-year-old policy wonk with a relaxed and noncombative demeanor, has become a superstar, a lightning rod and the new identity of the GOP.
Ryan is also known for a willingness rare among ambitious politicians to take risks, such as pushing to transform the popular but financially challenged Medicare program by cutting spending on future retirees and offering them a subsidy to buy private insurance. He isn’t known for compromising with Democrats to find common ground that could make it through the partisan divide in Congress and become law.
Ryan’s path to vice-presidential choice started in Janesville, Wis., where he was born and still lives with his wife, Janna, and their three children. It’s a riverfront city of 63,000 people that’s just over 75 miles from Milwaukee and a little farther than that from Chicago. The Irish Catholic Ryan family has been prominent in town for five generations, starting a major road construction firm.
Ryan’s life changed as a 16-year-old when he found his father dead of a heart attack. He’s called it a defining moment when he decided he needed to step up in life.
Ryan was class president and prom king in high school, with his classmates naming him “biggest brown-noser” his senior year. He went to college at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he met William Hart, an outspoken libertarian professor of economics.
Hart recalled in an interview Saturday that Ryan was already a conservative in college, and one who stood out for his intellectual curiosity.
Ryan worked as a Republican congressional staffer and for the conservative group Empower America before his successful run for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998 at the age of 28. He’s been in Congress ever since. Including his time as a staffer and with Empower America, he’s spent nearly half his life in the Washington sphere.