By Erik Wasson - 08/29/12 09:00 AM EDT
TAMPA, Fla. — Republicans attending their party’s national convention are brimming with excitement for Rep. Paul Ryan’s address on Wednesday.
Anticipation is high that the Wisconsin lawmaker, picked by Mitt Romney as his running mate, will energize the GOP faithful just as much as Sarah Palin — but without the drawbacks.
But she faltered later in the campaign amid questions about whether she was qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. Palin undoubtedly helped Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) presidential campaign initially, but in the end may have cost him more votes than she won.
In Ryan, Republicans are confident they have a conservative hero who can establish his qualifications for higher office in ways where Palin fell short, while steering the campaign toward unifying economic themes and away from divisive social issues.
“The Paul Ryan pick was perfect. I don’t think there could have been a better pick,” Louisiana delegate Duke Lowrie said.
“Early on Sarah gave a lot of energy to people, and I think Paul will do the same for people,” former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) said.
For many, Palin was about an attractive personality, whereas Ryan is a blend of personality and substance.
“Picking Ryan was a huge lift for the ticket. It doubled down on our message about jobs,” California delegate Michael Saragosa said.
“Sarah was a new face, a breath of fresh air,” he said. “Ryan cements the ticket on policy as well. We got criticized last time for not having enough experience.”
“The economy is the focus, job creation is the focus, and he is the right guy at the right time,” Maryland delegate and state Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin said.
Republicans say the concerns Palin immediately faced about her readiness for office won’t surface with Ryan, who has served in Congress since 1999.
“Ryan is a proven congressional leader,” Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad said.
He said McCain and Palin failed because they did not handle the 2008 financial crisis correctly, but that Ryan is a different matter.
“He has the plan and Romney has the business experience, and you put those two together and that is a strong combination,” he said.
Some Republicans seemed to dismiss their feelings for Palin four years ago as an infatuation.
“I think it was a more emotional thing with Palin,” actor and activist Jon Voight said. “This man has done something remarkable … All those stories about Ryan sleeping in his little quarters in Washington — he burned the midnight oil.”
Like Palin, Ryan has energized grassroots conservatives who might have had doubts about the candidate at the top of the ticket.
Lowrie, like other delegates, said Ryan removed lingering doubts about Romney’s conservative credentials.
“I am from Louisiana and we are very conservative and I will admit maybe there might have been some concerns about Mitt Romney, but with the choice of Paul Ryan, that evaporated any of those concerns,” he said.
But he said Palin ended up being painted as an extremist, something Ryan needs to avoid.
“Some people view Palin as being kind of radical, and with Ryan I don’t think people have that view of him. Ryan is viewed as being more business-oriented,” Lowrie said.
Georgia delegate Hank Schwab, wearing a flamboyant panama hat that has traveled to GOP conventions for 40 years, said Ryan needs to steer clear of the social battles that ensnared Palin.
“Ryan is conservative; he’s primarily a fiscal conservative. He should emphasize his economic plan,” Schwab said.
Republicans also hope Ryan can win over younger voters who have favored President Obama.
“It is not the first female vice presidential nominee, but it is a new generation and I think that brings its own excitement,” former Ambassador John Bolton said.
On Wednesday, delegates want to see Ryan tie his budget-cutting plans to job creation.
“First and foremost, in order to solve our fiscal situation, every policy has got to be targeted toward economic growth,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).