In key swing state Florida, Paul Ryan a virtual unknown

August 13, 2012

By , The Washington Post

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — A conservative rock star in the marbled halls of Congress, Paul Ryan — his ideas, his politics, his very name — was just barely beginning to register at the Spot Cafe off State Road 16 here Sunday.Rick Paul, said one diner, was a brilliant vice presidential choice. Mike Ryan, said another, would surely boost Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign and help “save the country.” At last, said Jim Smith, 74, Romney made a decision that solidifies his conservative credentials.

“Paul — from Kentucky?” Smith said, referring to the junior Kentucky senator, Rand Paul. “Definitely a good move. I didn’t support Romney in the primary, but I will now with Paul in there.”

And so it went Sunday in the crucial swing state of Florida, in the GOP stronghold of St. John’s County, and just down the bright gray highway from where the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is scheduled to campaign Monday without his vice presidential pick, the man named Paul Ryan, 42, a congressman from Wisconsin.

A rising player among conservatives in Washington, Ryan was only vaguely familiar to the breakfast crowd at the Spot Cafe, where diners were mostly older than 50, representing a critical demographic Romney needs to win Florida.

“I know nothing about that gentleman,” said Stuart Joseph, 79, heaping sugar into his coffee.

And about Ryan’s plan to cut the federal budget?

“Nothing,” Joseph said, stirring.

About Ryan’s plan to restructure Medicare?

“Nope,” Joseph said, sipping.

Ryan’s relative obscurity here stands in contrast to the large crowds that greeted him and Romney at campaign stops this weekend in Virginia and North Carolina, and to pundits already speculating about whether Ryan will motivate Romney’s conservative base or spook baby boomers and seniors across Florida with his Medicare plan.

“Paul Ryan’s his name?” asked Floyd Register, 62, a county worker who hasn’t quite decided who he will vote for in November.

And so, TV and radio advertising in Florida for the next three months is likely to be relentless: President Obama’s campaign will cast Ryan’s proposal as the death knell of Medicare, and Romney will cast it as the program’s only salvation.

For Romney, the process launched Sunday, when he and Ryan, whose mother is on Medicare in Florida, appeared on CBS’s “60 Minutes” and introduced Ryan’s proposal as one that will save Medicare for future generations.

“You’re going to have to do a little selling,” reporter Bob ­Schieffer said to Romney, a point that diners underlined Sunday.

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