Ahead of speech, Ryan surprises Wisconsin friends

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Vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan

Vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during a campaign rally on Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012 in Powell, Ohio. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Finish the speech? Check. Time with the kids? Check. Brats and beers with Wisconsin friends? Check. Now all that’s left on Paul Ryan’s Wednesday schedule is to accept his Republican Party’s vice presidential nomination.

Ahead of his high-profile speech that cements his place as Mitt Romney’s running mate and introduces him to the nation, the congressman spent most of the day with his children, keeping his mind elsewhere. The Midwesterner made a quick visit to the cavernous hall and then to a celebration of Wisconsin’s beer and brats.

Asked by reporters about his speech, the typically chatty congressman played coy as he tinkered with the height of the podium and got used to the echo from the microphones while his three children practiced waving to the crowd. “You’ll find out tonight,” Ryan said. “Why would I spoil it now?”

He and his wife then headed to the Wisconsin delegation’s Beers and Brats event, where he tried to downplay the significance of the speech just a few hours away to the thousands in the hall and the millions watching on television. “I’ve got to give this speech later on today so I’m going to keep it brief and save my voice,” he said.

Ryan said he and Romney would outline their plans for the country in the coming weeks, starting with his own speech. “We’re going to give the country a very clear choice that they deserve,” Ryan said.

Ryan is expected to talk about his Irish immigrant ancestors and small-town values, offering a personal presentation of a lawmaker largely known for sober policy analysis. He will also praise Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, and criticize President Barack Obama.

The speech will likely be heavy on personality and light on policy, the latest example of Ryan deferring to Romney’s preferences. As Ryan puts it, Romney is “the boss.” That message was underscored in Ryan’s preparations. Wearing a blazer and open-collar shirt, he asked to be shown where Romney will be seated, conscious that he would speak in front of the man he hopes will be his future partner.

Ryan and his team, a mix of longtime aides and new advisers, have spent a chunk of the past few weeks writing – and re-writing – the speech. Drafts have been emailed from his campaign plane and his kitchen table in Janesville, Wis., to speechwriters in Tampa and top Romney advisers at the Boston campaign headquarters.

Early versions were scrapped and adjusted to include bits of Ryan’s natural, easygoing speaking style. In between campaign events and daily workouts, Ryan has been working to put his own voice into the drafts. He is an experienced speechwriter, having served in that capacity for 1996 vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp and former Education Secretary William Bennett.

But at campaign events, Ryan has tended to favor policy over his personal story. From Ohio to Virginia to Florida, he talks more often about the nation’s debt and deficit than his own life as a congressional aide who became a congressman at age 28. The 42-year-old is more comfortable citing Congressional Budget Office statistics than real people.

Romney’s aides want that to change. Advisers are pushing Ryan toward more personal territory. The hope among Romney’s team is that the nation gets to know Ryan’s story, one they say working-class voters could relate to. Left unsaid is that Ryan’s policy positions, specifically his contentious budget proposals, have caused headaches for Romney and dominated the storyline of the campaign since he was introduced as the running mate.

Ryan planned to talk Wednesday not just about Romney’s promises to repair the economy and what they contend are Obama’s failures to do so, but also about his own upbringing. A message of self-reliance is set for a prominent role in the speech.

Ryan previewed his message earlier this week at the Janesville, Wis., high school he attended two decades ago. He spoke of his ancestors’ journey in the 1850s from Ireland to Wisconsin.

Aides sought to lower expectations and cautioned against expecting a blockbuster speech like the one delivered by 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Instead, Ryan is likely to paint himself as a reasonable governing partner for Romney.

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