JANESVILLE, Wis. — Even before Wisconsin sent Paul Ryan to Congress, he was meticulously carving a path that seemed to point only upward.

As a young Capitol Hill staffer, he impressed Republican lawmakers with his hustle and intellectual curiosity. He blended quickly with an elite crop of conservative thinkers. By his 30s, he was a congressman on his way to becoming a GOP name brand with his push-the-edge budget proposals.

Ryan's climb reached new heights Saturday when Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced him as his running mate.

"Mitt's Choice for VP is Paul Ryan," said a phone app Romney's team created to spread the word to supporters.

As the chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan gives Romney a link to Capitol Hill leadership and underscores Romney's effort to make the election a referendum on the nation's economic course. Romney also could see his standing improve in Wisconsin, a state President Barack Obama won handily four years ago but that could be much tighter this November.

Even so, Ryan has been a double-edged sword for Romney. The congressman's endorsement of Romney came at a critical stage of the GOP primaries, giving him a boost in the Wisconsin race that effectively buried Romney's final threat. But it also meant Romney was embracing the Ryan-sponsored budget proposal that Democrats fiercely target as painful to the poor and elderly.

Still, the square-jawed congressman is viewed as a bridge between the buttoned-up GOP establishment and the riled-up tea party movement.

At 42, Ryan has spent almost half of his life in the Washington fold, the last 14 representing a southern Wisconsin district that runs from the shores of Lake Michigan through farm country south of Madison.

Ryan grew up in Janesville and still lives just down the block from where he spent his boyhood. During summers in college, Ryan was a salesman for Oscar Mayer and once drove the company's famed Wienermobile.

Ryan's father, a lawyer, died of a heart attack when Ryan was a teenager.

On Saturday, Ryan leaned on his father's memory as he took his first swipe as a running mate at President Barack Obama, suggestive of the traditional attack role he'll inherit.

Of his father, Ryan said, "He'd say `Son, you're either part of the problem or part of the solution. Regrettably President Obama has become part of the problem and Mitt Romney is the solution."

The early death of Ryan's father is one reason the congressman is a fitness buff, leading fellow lawmakers through grueling, early-morning workouts and pushing himself through mountain climbs.

That same intensity propelled him on the political front, too.

He was first exposed to Congress as a summer intern to former Sen. Robert Kasten, R-Wis. With an economics degree in hand, Ryan worked his way through committee staff assignments, a prominent think tank and top legislative advisory roles until opportunity arose with an open seat from his home turf. He leveraged Washington connections, local ties forged through the family construction business and the backing of anti-abortion groups en route to his surprisingly comfortable victory.

As a 28-year-old, Ryan entered Congress brimming with idealistic views about forcing government to become leaner and less intrusive, principles he thought even fellow Republicans were abandoning too readily.

"One of the first lessons I learned was, even if you come to Congress believing in limited government and fiscal prudence once you get here you are bombarded with pressure to violate your conscience and your commitment to help secure the people's natural right to equal opportunity," Ryan wrote in a 2010 book.

Critics question Ryan's own consistency. They note that he backed a costly prescription drug benefit during Republican George W. Bush's presidency that added strain to the Medicare budget, which Ryan touted at the time as "one of the most critical pieces of legislation" enacted since he joined Congress. He said in a June interview with The Associated Press that he took a "defensive" vote to ward off a more expensive Senate version. More recently, Ryan served on a bipartisan presidential debt commission but balked at its report because a tax increase was on the menu of options.

He is a disciple of and past aide to the late Rep. Jack Kemp, once a GOP vice presidential nominee himself who effusively promoted tax cuts as a central tenet for economic growth.

From the title page of his idyllic "Path to Prosperity" budget plan down to the most scrutinized fine print, Ryan is adept at framing proposals in the most pleasant terms.

Ryan's opponents charge that his call to open Medicare to more private competition is too risky even if implementation would be a ways off; he counters that the latest version was fashioned in consultation with prominent Democrats in hopes of heading off an all-out program collapse that would devastate the financial security of future retirees. Foes say his plans to scale back food stamps and housing assistance are mean-spirited; Ryan describes the moves, which would allow states to further customize their welfare programs while imposing tougher time limits and work requirements, as empowerment for the downtrodden who he argues are being lulled into lives of complacency and dependency.

It took time for Ryan's own party to get fully behind his ideas. A few years ago, when Ryan first proposed dramatic changes to entitlement programs like Medicare some in the GOP were skittish because Democrats pounced on the plans as undermining the health program accessed by millions of retirees.

Kasten said Ryan's refusal to back down paid off politically.

"If all the sudden you become the dartboard for everyone on the left and you are willing to stand there and take the heat and the darts, you develop a tremendous amount of respect even from those who are throwing the darts," Kasten said. "In the beginning it's a grudging respect. It grows into a true respect."

Ryan has let opportunities to advance come and go, most recently when he opted not to seek an open U.S. Senate seat. His young family factored into his considerations; he and wife, tax attorney Janna, have a daughter and two sons, ages 10, 8 and 7.

___

Associated Press writers Steve Peoples and Matthew Daly in Washington and Kasie Hunt in Norfolk, Va., contributed to this report.

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  • Marco Rubio

    "Throughout his life, Mitt Romney has made great decisions, and choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate is a truly inspired choice. I got to know Paul during my Senate campaign when he endorsed me early on when I was still considered a long shot. Paul Ryan is a courageous reformer who understands our nation's challenges, has proposed bold policy solutions to solve them, and has shown the courage to stand up to President Obama and other Washington politicians trying to tear him down. "The Romney-Ryan ticket is going to win in November because it offers the American people visionary leadership to recapture the free enterprise spirit that has empowered countless Americans to build businesses from scratch and live the American dream. I'm excited about the visionary change a Romney-Ryan team will bring to Washington, and I look forward to campaigning

  • Rob Portman

    <blockquote> "Mitt Romney has made a great choice in Paul Ryan. He is an accomplished public servant and a leading voice on the most pressing issues facing our country. Paul is one of my best friends in Congress and someone I have worked closely with as a former colleague on the House Ways & Means Committee. "Jane and I wish Paul and Janna and their kids the very best. As the Chairman of the Romney campaign in Ohio, I look forward to working with Paul to ensure that the Romney-Ryan ticket carries Ohio and is victorious in November. Most importantly, as a member of the Senate, I look forward to working closely with a Romney-Ryan Administration to restore fiscal sanity and enact pro-growth policies to create jobs."</blockquote>

  • Obama for American Campaign Manager Jim Messina

    <blockquote>"In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy. The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid. His plan also would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors. As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes."</blockquote>

  • Michelle Malkin

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  • Michael Steele

  • Larry Sabato

  • davidfrum

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  • Progressive Change Campaign Committee

    The Progressive Change Campaign Committee issued the following statement: <blockquote>"Paul Ryan is a right-wing extremist who wants to end Medicare. This is a major unforced error by Mitt Romney. It gives President Obama and Democrats a chance to draw a clear contrast in 2012 by promising not to cut one penny from Medicare or Social Security benefits. If Democrats win in a landslide, this was the game changer." -- Adam Green, co-founder, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a 1 million member grassroots organization</blockquote>

  • Laura Ingraham

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  • Susan B. Anthony List

    The national pro-life organization released the following statement: <blockquote>"By selecting Congressman Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, Governor Romney demonstrates his commitment to protecting American women and unborn children," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List. "A longtime pro-life advocate and a strong fiscal conservative, Congressman Ryan has insisted that there can be no 'truce' when it comes to advancing the rights of the unborn and achieving fiscal responsibility. He has a pristine pro-life voting record and will be an asset to Governor Romney's campaign. "Pro-life voters are a key demographic and help secure victory in critical elections," continued Dannenfelser. "The addition of a second strong pro-life leader to the ticket energizes the pro-life base - we are thrilled with this pick."</blockquote>

  • GOProud

    <blockquote>"The selection of Paul Ryan is a bold and inspired pick," said Jimmy LaSalvia, Executive Director of GOProud. "Paul Ryan has been the architect of policies that would benefit all Americans, especially gay Americans." "Paul Ryan is one of the few political leaders anywhere in the country willing to tell the American people the truth about the unprecedented budget crisis we are facing, and - more importantly - willing to put forward bold plans to put this country back on the road to fiscal solvency," continued LaSalvia.</blockquote>

  • Log Cabin Republicans

    <blockquote>"Congressman Paul Ryan is a strong choice for vice president, and his addition to the GOP ticket will help Republican candidates up and down the ballot," said R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director. "As chairman of the House Budget Committee and author of the Republican "path to prosperity" that provided the blueprint for serious spending cuts in this Congress, nobody is more qualified to articulate a conservative economic vision to restore the American economy and stimulate job creation. </blockquote>

  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

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  • Center For American Progress President Neera Tanden

    <blockquote>"Just like Sen. John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin and George H.W. Bush's selection of Dan Quayle, Mitt Romney has been cowed by the right wing into choosing an extreme vice presidential nominee who will alienate moderate voters. It's now clearer than ever that as president, Mitt Romney would end Medicare as we know it, and will raise taxes on middle class families by more than $2,000in order to slash taxes on the wealthiest Americans. While there is a lot that can be said about Paul Ryan's extreme views, more important is what this choice says about Mitt Romney: that he is unwilling or unable to stand up to the far-right of his party and select a vice-presidential candidate that is both able to be president on day one and capable of governing by reaching across the aisle."</blockquote>

  • SEIU President Mary Kay Henry

    <blockquote>"If there were ever any doubt that Mitt Romney is not on the side of working people, today's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as a running mate makes it crystal clear. With this choice, Romney has shown the American people that he believes Rep. Ryan's extremist, irresponsible and anti-worker agenda is what's right for our country. "Rep. Ryan has made a name for himself by fighting in the halls of Congress for tax giveaways for the wealthy and big corporations while proposing to gut vital services like Medicare and education, and eliminating any sense of retirement security for working families. His no-holds barred record of attacking seniors, children, and working men and women is frightening for the 99 percent of Americans who are not rich -- but for Mitt Romney it was a calling card to choose him as a running mate."

  • NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan

    <blockquote>"Mitt Romney's choice of Rep. Ryan as his running mate reminds us of why elections matter when it comes to our ability to make personal and private medical decisions," Keenan continued. "The outcome of the 2012 presidential election very well could determine whether abortion remains legal and accessible for the next generation of American women. Romney has pledged that taking away women's rights will be a priority for him and his choice of Ryan amplifies that promise to the extreme anti-choice backers of this ticket. My organization's priority is to make sure President Obama remains in the White House."</blockquote>

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  • Rep. Kathy Hochul

    <blockquote>"Americans deserve new ideas for how we can reduce the debt and protect our seniors and the middle class. Just one year ago, Western New York voters rejected the Ryan-Collins policies that would end Medicare as we know it and hurt middle class families while giving more tax cuts to the rich. Our country needs to move forward, not re-hash failed ideas. Given Chris Collins' ongoing support for tax cuts for the rich that add nearly $1 trillion to the deficit and his willingness to send his business to China to line his pockets, it is clear my opponent is going to continue to pursue policies and priorities that have already been rejected."</blockquote>

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  • Rob Zerban

    <blockquote>"Now that Paul Ryan's personal ambition has clearly trumped his interest in the First District, I have no doubt he'll find himself out of a job come November. Once Wisconsinites and voters across our country learn the truth about Ryan's radical plot to end Medicare as we know it, de-fund women's health care, and preserve tax breaks for millionaires, they'll vote against him not just once, but twice. In the coming weeks, our campaign will work with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to continue getting the word out on Ryan's indefensible record, and building momentum to ensure victory on Election Day."</blockquote>

  • Scott Walker

    <blockquote>"Governor Mitt Romney made a bold and reform-minded selection in Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. This election has to be about who is going to look out for the next generation. America needs a comeback team to turn around the economy and to turn around the fiscal status of our country. Romney and Ryan have the ideas and the experience needed to take on these core issues. This is a great day for Wisconsin and an even greater day for America."</blockquote>