WAUKESHA, Wis. — For Paul Ryan, it's good to be home.
Fresh off a night of sleeping in his own bed, the vice presidential candidate was greeted with a roar of applause from the party faithful in Waukesha, the ruby-red beating heart of Wisconsin's conservative movement.
"It's so fantastic to be home," Ryan said, clearly energized by the home-state crowd at a Carroll University gym on the edge of his congressional district.
"To go down in Texas against a 5-0 team on the road and have that kind of performance, it reminds me of what it's going to look like on November the sixth," Ryan said in reference to Green Bay's upset win over the Houston Texans Sunday night. The line drew a a roar from a crowd heavily decked out in Packer green and gold that was only matched by the cheer as he entered the stage.
Ryan, making his first public appearance since a strong debate showing against Vice President Biden last week, displayed why he's always been able to run ahead of the rest of the GOP ticket in the district. He held up his camouflage and blaze-orange-colored phone case as a reminder to himself that in a few weeks he'll be back to take his daughter out for Wisconsin's official start to the deer-hunting season, and smoothly handled questions from blue-collar voters, including one who proudly proclaimed himself a member of the IBEW, the electricians' union.
Wisconsin is solidly in play at the presidential level, and Republicans have been upping their push there in case they can't win Ohio. Recent polls show Obama leading there by a few points.
While the state backed Democratic presidential candidates in both 2000 and 2004, it was the thinnest margin of victory of any blue state. If Romney can do as well as former President George W. Bush did in the state and Ryan can help him improve on Bush's numbers by even just a bit in Ryan's home district in southeastern Wisconsin, the GOP can win the state.
When asked by the union electrician what he would do for "guys like me, the working stiffs," Ryan seamlessly moved into a discussion of how taxes and energy policy affect blue-collar workers, showing a comfort level with talking to average voters that far surpasses his running mate's ability.
Ryan ripped Obama for wanting to increase taxes on high-income earners, pointing to "industrial park after industrial park" lining a nearby highway and saying those taxes would hit the small companies in those offices.
"We don't have a tax problem in Washington, we have a spending problem in Washington and we've got to get the spending under control — for the IBEW, for the pipe-fitters, for manufacturers, for excavators," he said, mentioning that his cousin owned a nearby business in that sector.
He also ripped Obama for delaying the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada.
"The president personally intervened to stop the Keystone pipeline from coming into this country," he said. "That one project would have given us tens of thousands of good union jobs, tens of thousands of good jobs for pipe-fitters, for carpenters, construction jobs."
Ryan was introduced by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), another hero to the state's conservative movement who drew raucous cheers. One local party official who introduced Walker remarked he felt "like the [Milwaukee] Brewers' batboy who gets to run onstage with the team."
The governor survived a tough recall election battle last summer, and many in the crowd said they were even more fired up about this race than they had been about his because of Ryan's presence on the ticket.
"The Packers didn't let us down. And you know what? America needs a comeback," he said to roars.
A number of Republicans give a large amount of credit for Walker's win to GOP's vastly improved ground game in the state, one of the few where they could have an edge over Democrats.
If Monday's event is any indication, the state's Republican faithful
are as excited about having Ryan on the ticket as they were about
keeping Walker in office — and possibly about their home-state team.