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Exuberant audiences are welcoming Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to the GOP 2012 ticket.
Exuberant audiences are welcoming Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to the GOP 2012 ticket. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Since Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., came on the scene Saturday, Mitt Romney's rallies have felt different. The crowds are bigger. The audience is more raucous. Lines that used to be a routine part of the Republican presidential candidate's stump speech have become rousing battle cries.
At the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, N.C., 1,600 people crowded into the room and thousands more swarmed outside.
"I feel like I'm in Woodstock," gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory exclaimed. "There's a parking jam!"
That's not a typical description of a Romney campaign rally, but it seemed apt as this bus tour worked its way through Virginia, North Carolina then Wisconsin. Intensity built from one stop to the next, and everywhere the audience shouted "USA! USA! USA! USA!"
The reason, of course, is the running mate. Ryan has changed the vibe.
At a typical Obama rally, someone will shout "I love you," and the president will reply, "I love you back." People don't shout that at Romney, but for both of the last two days, Ryan has got the love. "I love you, too," he shouts back.
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U.S. Republican vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan greets supporters during a campaign rally in High Point, N.C., on Sunday.
U.S. Republican vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan greets supporters during a campaign rally in High Point, N.C., on Sunday. Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images
Gail Rudisill has always liked Romney, but Ryan sends a different kind of shiver down her spine.
"Mitt Romney is maybe a little bit detached from folks like us," she says. "Just regular, working folks struggling to get by, that sort of thing."
This can be a big plus for Romney. And also a minus. Campaign advisers welcome the enthusiasm, but for many reasons, they don't want the newcomer to overshadow the boss.
"The thing you have to remember about these campaigns is that Gov. Romney's at the top of the ticket," says Romney adviser Kevin Madden, who underlined the hierarchy at a briefing with reporters Sunday morning.
"Gov. Romney's vision for the country is something that Congressman Ryan supports," he said. "So as we begin to talk about the issues, as far as the economy, the budget, the vision for the future, on how we create jobs and how we build a more sustainable economy, that's something that Gov. Romney's going to be talking about and that Congressman Ryan's going to continue to support."
Got that? Romney's in charge. Ryan's the support. This has at least as much to do with policy as personality; Ryan's budget proposals are a bull's-eye for Democrats.
"Genial person, but his views are quite harsh," said President Obama's campaign strategist David Axelrod on CNN Sunday morning.
He called Ryan a right-wing ideologue.
"You know the budget that he constructed for the House Republicans would include trillions of new tax cuts skewed to the very wealthy, so that we're giving a millionaire a $250,000 tax cut, while we're cutting college aid for kids and research and development and a whole range of things that we need to grow."
To Republicans, these kinds of attacks are a badge of honor.
"We needed somebody more right than middle," said Patti Edgar, who attended a rally Saturday in Manassas, Va. "And that's going to draw in a lot of people who have the same values he has."
The question is whether it will push away people who don't share those values.