NORFOLK, Va. -- One could easily imagine Democratic operatives cackling to themselves, "You're not in think tank-world anymore, Ryan!" as they watched the opening minutes of Rep. Paul Ryan's first speech as Mitt Romney's running mate.
The crowd of roughly 2,500 people standing outside under the gray morning sky gave a hearty reception to the 42-year-old Ryan. But as the Republican congressman from Wisconsin launched into his roughly 15-minute speech, it seemed at times as if he was addressing an audience at a policy think tank like The Brookings Institution or The American Enterprise Institute, rather than making a stump speech for national office.
"We're in a different and dangerous moment. We're running out of time. And we can't afford four more years of this," Ryan said. "Politicians from both parties have made empty promises which will soon become broken promises with painful consequences if we fail to act now."
The crowd paused, then applauded lightly.
This is Ryan's calling card: He is a wonk, and that's part of his appeal. But over the next three months, he'll need to take the arguments that he has made mostly to policy-minded insiders and figure out how to make his case to a much larger, far less attuned audience. He has been warning for years of the fiscal costs of not addressing government over-spending, debt and entitlement programs. But these kinds of sentiments are not the typical red meat of which campaigns usually consist.
Romney's choice of Ryan is a gamble that Americans are ready, hungry even, for a new kind of straight talk.
"Real solutions can be delivered. But it will take leadership, and the courage to tell you the truth," Paul told the crowd.
And as Ryan got going into his remarks and warmed up, he gathered momentum. It was clearly evident that Ryan is going to supply Romney with intangibles that favorability polls suggest the candidate has sorely lacked: energy, vigor, emotion, feeling.
"America is an idea. It's the only country founded on an idea," Ryan said emphatically. When he mentioned that rights come from God and not from man -- a bedrock belief of conservative governance -- the crowd broke into lusty chants of, "USA, USA, USA!"
When Ryan's wife, Janna, and their three young children, Elizabeth, Charles and Samuel, came on stage at the end of his speech, Ryan bent down on one knee and embraced his children with both arms.
For all his wonkiness, Ryan has been undergoing a transition over the past few years into a polished campaigner. That was evident from the way he bounded onto the stage, waving his right arm broadly toward the crowd, and in his delivery of key lines during his speech.
Romney, for his part, emphasized Ryan's character and his personal story.
"Paul's father died when he was in high school. That forced him to grow up earlier than any young man should. But Paul did," Romney said.
"Paul's upbringing is obvious in how he's conducted himself throughout his life, including his leadership in Washington. In a city that is far too often characterized by pettiness and personal attacks, Paul Ryan is a shining exception," Romney said. "He doesn't demonize his opponents. He understands that honorable people can have honest differences, and he appeals to the better angels of our nature."
"A lot of people in the other party disagree with Paul Ryan. I don't know of anyone who doesn't respect his character and judgment," Romney said.
Romney had already indicated this week that he wants the presidential campaign to move -- for political as well as substantive reasons -- away from personal attacks to a debate over ideas. His choice of Ryan is an aggressive move to shift the debate in that direction.
A colleague of Ryan's in the House was just as effusive in his praise of the House Budget Committee chairman.
"I personally think he's an incredible person -- deep thinker, thoughtfully conservative but reasonable, exciting yet safe," Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) told The Huffington Post. "Enthusiasm for the ticket just went through the roof!"
What's unclear is how the country will respond to Ryan's budget plan and his proposals to overhaul Medicare, which Democrats will very likely paint in the direst terms possible.
Romney signaled his awareness of his vulnerability now on Medicare, and told the crowd that he and Ryan "will preserve and protect Medicare and Social Security, and keep them there for future generations."
Three separate attendees at the Romney event all said they knew of Ryan and his work before Saturday's announcement, and two of them said they had been hoping that Romney would either pick Ryan or Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).
"They come across as young Turks," said John Sutherland, a 50-year old Defense Department employee who came with his 20-year-old son, Kai.
Paul, Sutherland said, is "hardworking" and has "been engaged with the budget."
"I think it's good to have a young running mate," Sutherland said.
Sutherland said he was optimistic that Romney could win with Ryan on the ticket, but that he expects the election will still be a battle.
"That's going to be a knock-down drag out," he said. "You gotta prove that your changes are worth making."
"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
<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>
Rachel Maddow MSNBC
Charles M. Blow
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>
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>
<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)
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>
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>
Sen. Lisa Murkowski
Chris Van Hollen
Rep. Mary Bono Mack
Rep. Trent Franks
<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>
<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>