POLITICS
09/25/2012 11:01 pm ET Updated Sep 25, 2012

Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan Hit Ohio: A Tale Of Two Very Different Campaigners

CINCINNATI -- Paul Ryan had almost finished his Tuesday morning campaign rally when howls came from the back the makeshift forum at the Byer Steel factory in the outskirts of town.

Barry Silver, 60, a politically active, somewhat portly Jewish man, had been waiting to ask a question. And when it looked like the Republican vice presidential candidate was about to exit -- past the steel beams indoors and the towering piles of colorful metallic garbage outside, onto the waiting bus -- the people surrounding Silver begged Ryan to take one more.

"Okay, go ahead," Ryan capitulated, glancing quickly to his staffers nearby, checking to see how crunched his schedule was. "They are going to kill for being late."

Silver proceeded to detail his apocalyptical nightmare. "My main worry is Iran getting the bomb," he explained. "We won't be here if Iran gets the bomb, Israel won't be there if Iran gets the bomb." What, he asked, would Mitt Romney do about it?

Ryan's answer was boilerplate. And since he was rushed for time, it lasted just over a minute. But, as political give-and-takes go, it did the trick.

"I thought he gave a pretty great answer," Silver told The Huffington Post at the next Romney campaign stop. "I was happy he took the question because I think that's a political issue both candidates are ignoring."

Silver, a Cincinnatian, is precisely the type of voter that Romney and Ryan need to reach. Until two weeks ago, he was set to vote for President Barack Obama. In fact, he had been volunteering for the Obama campaign, making phone calls. But when the riots in Libya and Cairo happened, Silver took down his lawn sign. Bearded, wearing a plain white shirt and a yarmulke, he called the president's response to those riots "pitiful." With 42 days left until the election, Silver explained that he was in the midst of a political reassessment.

Ryan didn't seal the deal. But he nudged Silver toward Romney. In the process, he showed that direct voter contact still has a role in a 2012 campaign dominated by massive spending and glitzy television ads. And he raised the question: Why isn't Romney doing this type of retail politicking as well?

Hours after he spent an extra minute alleviating Silver's concerns, Ryan stood behind Romney on a makeshift podium at an airport tarmac 15 minutes outside of Dayton. Gone was the dusty floor, the steel factory backdrop, and the stage surrounded by an audience.

In its place was an airport runaway with two private Romney campaign planes and a high-end bus for the campaign's across-Ohio tour. Romney spoke before a decent-sized crowd, which stood and applauded throughout his roughly 30-minute speech. There was no question-and-answer session. It was a standard stump speech, with a little extra emphasis on cracking down on China ("We cannot compete with people who don't play fair. I won't let that go on. I will stop it in its tracks.") and one notable gaffe (with Romney admitting that Obama hadn't raised taxes in his first term).

If Romney was at all startled by a Washington Post poll from the morning, which showed him trailing the president by eight percentage points in the state, neither he nor his advisers showed it. After the event, there were no impromptu stops at a local bakery or at a small business that might face a major tax hike in Obama's second term. Romney hasn't done one of those since Sept. 10.

The candidate did interviews with a few TV anchors, departed Dayton International Airport at 5:41 p.m., drove an hour and 25 minutes to Columbus, went into his hotel and called it a day.

Aides to the former governor insisted the day went according to plan. Reporters following the candidate can only witness a fraction of the imprint that campaign has on the state when it spends three days crisscrossing its terrain, the aides said.

"When we get a chance to commit to a local market like this, we can tailor that message," explained Kevin Madden, a top Romney adviser. "We will have more events as we go through Election Day. And we have done a number of those events throughout this campaign. And there will be other opportunities for that."

But in private, others on staff conceded that Romney has become too removed from the act of campaigning. The expenses of the election have become overwhelming (owed, in large part, to Obama's ability to tap into grassroots donors), forcing Romney to split his time between raising money and addressing voters.

"He is doing retail politics," stressed former Sen. Mike DeWine, who, after endorsing Rick Santorum in the Republican primary, has served as a Romney surrogate in Ohio. DeWine added that the persuasion of undecided voters would come when the two candidates hold their debates.

"The other guy [Obama] has been in their living room for four years," DeWine said. "Romney has to convince them to be comfortable with him being in their living room for four years."

And so, for Ryan, the task has become two-fold. Instead of just serving the traditional function of a vice presidential candidate -- that of an attack dog -- he's been asked to essentially make his running mate more accessible. It wasn't a coincidence that Ryan and Romney were on stage together for a first time in almost a month and that aides said more joint appearances were in the works. Ryan performs the precise task that Romney needs: getting voters excited again.

Sherry Kenworthy of Englewood said Ryan draws younger voters to the GOP ticket, in part because "around here he is really well-known." He went to college at Ohio's Miami University. Plus, she added, "he's cute."

Less superficially, Kathleen Ford, who travelled to the Cincinnati event from her home in northern Kentucky, said Ryan had helped alleviate questions she had about Romney's religion.

"Part of the issue with Romney is he is Mormon. And a lot of people don't know about the Mormon Church," Ford told The Huffington Post. "I just know too little about it. What I knew about it was that they could have more than one wife. It is a stereotype that's unfair. Clearly he has one wife.

"But Mormons are not so much involved in the true fight that the Catholic Church is going through right now," Ford added. "We pray every Sunday that the government does not strip us of our liberties. Our pastor has called what is happening tyranny."

Ryan shared that sense of creeping tyranny, she explained.

Others at both rallies echoed similar points. Ryan, they said, was giving the campaign the type of wholesome, personal touch that Romney lacks. While Romney has the business credentials for the job, Ryan knows how to actually turn that into legislation. "Paul Ryan understands the nuts and the bolts of the budget," said Steve Bengal of Cincinnati.

But there was a side effect to all the glad-handing, question-answering and retail politicking that Ryanb was doing. For some folks -- a very small minority -- the vice presidential candidate had as much if not more appeal than the top of the ticket.

"You never get the perfect candidate," said Patty Sherman, also of Cincinnati. But, she added, "you can say Romney made a good decision" by picking Ryan as his running mate.

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

PHOTO GALLERY
Romney-Ryan 2012 Soundtrack
CONVERSATIONS