A Local Look At Wisconsin's Rep. Paul Ryan

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Congressman Paul Ryan from Wisconsin has been selected as the Republican candidate for vice president. Weekend Edition Saturday guest host Linda Wertheimer speaks with Craig Gilbert, the Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in Paul Ryan's home state of Wisconsin.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Congressman Paul Ryan introduced himself to the crowd in Northfolk, Virginia this morning as an experienced leader.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: For the last 14 years, I have proudly represented Wisconsin in Congress. There, I have focused on solving the problems that confront our country, turning ideas into action, and action into solutions. I am committed, in heart and mind, to putting that experience to work in a Romney administration.

WERTHEIMER: And we have more on his reputation in his home state. Craig Gilbert is with us. He's Washington Bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He joins us by telephone from Milwaukee.

Craig, thank you for speaking with us.

CRAIG GILBERT: Nice to be with you.

WERTHEIMER: Now, Paul Ryan is, I gather, celebrated in his home district, which is down in the southeastern corner of Wisconsin, sort of halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago. What do you think - how is he regarded statewide?

GILBERT: Well, he's - his profile has risen considerably statewide, and it's risen nationally. You know, as a member of the House of Representatives, you don't necessarily have a statewide profile. But because of his national role, he does have one. And he's pretty well-known statewide. He has also become a little bit more of a lightning rod statewide because of the debate over his budgets and the way that has kind of polarized people along party lines.

WERTHEIMER: Now, it's also true, isn't it, that Mr. Ryan has shown a certain amount of flexibility where the home state crowd is concerned. I mean, he voted to bail out the automobile industry, for example, which I believe was a sort of a directly - something he was directed to do by Janesville.

GILBERT: Well, that is - that was a local issue. And so, yeah, I mean, he's the kind of - he's a good politician. He's kind of tried to take care of business in his home district. So there's - I think he's had a balancing act there between serving his constituents in some cases, and just sort of - and following kind of the - more of a philosophical doctrine.

WERTHEIMER: What do you think about the chances that Mr. Romney will carry Wisconsin in November, or that Ryan would be helpful in that?

GILBERT: I think Ryan can be helpful on the margins, but it's still going to be a heavy lift for Romney. I mean, there's been, probably, 18 or 20 poles taken so far this year. And I think President Obama's been ahead in all but about one or two in Wisconsin. He won it by 14 points last time. Everybody knows it's going to be closer.

The funny thing is that Republicans had this big victory in the recall battle. Everybody remembers the big fight over our governor in June, yet - the Romney campaign has yet to target Wisconsin in its advertising. And I would - kind of wouldn't be surprised if that changed, given Paul Ryan's presence on the ticket.

WERTHEIMER: So do you think this pick could affect state races coming up in the fall?

GILBERT: Well, we have a big Senate race, which will be very competitive. Herb Kohl is retiring, and, in fact, we're having a primary Tuesday to pick the Republican nominee. And so, by all - you know, I think the expectation is that it's going to be a very competitive race, and it will be affected by the top of the ticket in Wisconsin. You know, if President Obama, for example, wins Wisconsin by four or five points, it's going to make it very difficult for Republicans to pick up that Senate seat. So these things all kind of bleed into each other.

WERTHEIMER: What about the Tea Party? Is there much of a Tea Party presence in your state?

GILBERT: There has been. I mean, we - our - the senator that we elected in 2010 was kind of out of the Tea Party tradition, Ron Johnson. I think what distinguished Wisconsin in 2010 is that the Tea Party and Republican Party kind of meshed pretty nicely. There weren't a lot of messy collisions like you had in some other states. It's been a little bit messier this year, because we have a pretty wild and wooly four-way primary for the U.S. Senate, and there's a little bit of Tea Party action going on there.

But people like Paul Ryan and people like Scott Walker, the governor, are pretty unifying figures in Wisconsin among - within the Republican Party.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much, Craig.

GILBERT: It's a pleasure.

WERTHEIMER: Craig Gilbert is the Washington bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in Wisconsin.

You're listening - I beg your pardon. You are listening to NPR News, but I don't mean to say goodbye. I meant to say hello, instead, to Don Gonyea and to Ron Elving again. We have an opportunity, here, for a little bit of a last word on what the two of you think this campaign is going to - this addition to the campaign is going to do for Mitt Romney, bottom line. Is this a winning or a losing situation, this choice?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: I don't know the answer to that. And I don't think we can answer that yet. He certainly helps him with the base, and that is something that the Romney campaign certainly needed. I mean, I've gone to Romney event after event all over the country, particularly in primary states, but even since then. And the thing I very often hear at a Romney event, even recently, is: Well, I used to like Rick Santorum, but I'm a Romney guy now, or I guess I'm a Romney guy now.

So he really did need to shore up the base. So it feels like this does that, but it's not clear what it does for the Romney campaign in those swing states.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: On the human level, I would say that Paul Ryan is a huge net-plus, because he is a more empathetic figure with the middle-class, because he is the sort of person that people will find more warm and more empathetic, more human. At the same time, I think it gives an ideological edge to the campaign that, previously, Mitt Romney had tried very hard to actually avoid. And he wanted to be more the across-the-aisle, I'm-a-president-of-all-the-country kind of person, kind of politician that he was when he was when he was governor of Massachusetts, trying to be a little bit for the moderates, a little bit for the conservatives, a little bit on both sides. That has to change, now. Ryan's going to change it.

WERTHEIMER: That's NPR's Washington editor Ron Elving and our national political correspondent Don Gonyea. Gentlemen, thank you very much.

ELVING: My pleasure.

GONYEA: Thank you, Linda.

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