TAMPA, FL — Mixing his personal story with his views on what's wrong with America and his vision for fixing those problems, Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan introduced himself to America Wednesday night as he formally accepted the Republican party's vice presidential nomination.
The speech was full of criticisms of President Barack Obama on issues like health care, the economy and government regulation, yet also was peppered with emotion and humor, including a playful shot at running mate Mitt Romney for the kind of songs the presidential candidate has on his iPod.
While the enthusiastic Wisconsin delegates and other GOP leaders who filled the St. Pete Times Forum had nothing but praise for the speech, those who have known Ryan for years said it was a true reflection of the kind of man he is.
"He was the exact guy tonight that he's been for the last 14 years," said Bryan Steil of Janesville, an alternate delegate from Ryan's hometown. "He's delivering the same message he's delivered for 14 years: the risk of continuing on the fiscal path we're on and the need to take a real serious look at entitlements. But he got a chance to deliver that message not just to southeastern Wisconsin, but to the nation as a whole."
"It was amazing, really amazing," added Jim Miller, a delegate from Hayward. "I've seen Paul speak a few times before, but I think it's great that America can see what we already know in Wisconsin about Paul's rock star status and all that he's got to offer."
A Tribute to His Mother
Many in the convention hall — including Gov. Scott Walker and First Lady Tonette Walker — were moved to tears early on in the speech when Ryan talked about how his father died when Ryan was just 16. At the age of 50, Ryan's mother starting taking college courses, earned her degree and ultimately started a business, he said.
"I think a lot of people were moved to see the way he talked about his family," said Scott Walker. "I cried when he talked about his dad and he talked about his mom. There were times when I could feel the passion that Paul Ryan has and the love that he has for the American people."
Added Tonette Walker: "When he talked about his mom, I couldn't keep the tears from rolling down my eyes, and she is such a lovely lady. I've heard all the other stuff a little bit — the fiscal responsibility and dealing with the national debt and what they'll do with Obamacare — but it was neat to see that personal side of him."
That portion of the speech also resonated with state Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills.
"He showed how his mother was his role model for building a small business and carrying the family forward, even though his father had died," Darling said. "That touches people. People can related to that."
High Marks from the Party Faithful
"It was fantastic," said Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. "I knew Paul would do a good job. He is a tremendous intellectual, so I knew the content would be great. But he even far outdid my expectations. I thought it was an amazing speech, loaded with content and certainly a lot of energy."
Added former Gov. Tommy Thompson, who is running for U.S. Senate: "I thought Paul Ryan was an absolute star. He was able to really capture the mood of this convention, but more importantly, the mood of the country. People can understand that Paul Ryan identifies the problems facing this country and — no finger-pointing — says we're going to solve those problems."
Delegate Candee Arndt of Brookfield said: "I thought his speech was absolutely amazing. He lived up to our expectations. I thought he hit a home run. He hit it out of the ballpark."
Darling took the accolades even farther, comparing Ryan to one of history's most famous Americans.
"He has such much integrity. He won't lie to us; he'll tell the truth. He's like Paul Revere," she said. "He's sounding the alarm that we are in a crisis, but there's still time to save the American Dream."
Obama Campaign: No Real Ideas
Not everyone was heaping praise on Ryan, however. During his speech, Obama's campaign sent reporters at least seven "fact check" press releases taking issue with various points made in the address.
"Paul Ryan offered Americans 40 minutes of vitriol and a half dozen previously debunked attacks, but not one tangible idea to move this country forward," Obama Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter said in a statement.
"He blamed the president for an auto plant that closed under the previous administration, for not advancing a deficit reduction plan that he voted against, and for cutting Medicare even though he used those same savings in his budget to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy.
“While hard truths were promised tonight, they never arrived."
More Wisconsin coverage from the Republican National Convention