Associated Press file photo
Associated Press file photo
JANESVILLE, Wis. – Mitt Romney’s No. 2 has a safety net in case the GOP presidential ticket doesn’t win the White House.
Vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan also is on the ballot seeking another term as a Wisconsin congressman.
Filming for Ryan’s re-election commercials finished a few days before Romney introduced the Wisconsin congressman as his running mate, and the ads will air this fall as planned.
Wisconsin law allows Ryan to seek both offices at once. He usually wins by comfortable margins, but his district tilts Democratic in presidential races and, this year, Ryan won’t have the luxury of much time back home.
“I’m already on the ballot. You can’t even go off the ballot,” he told CBS’s “60 Minutes.”
Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District stretches from the shores of Lake Michigan through industrial zones, bedroom communities and farm fields until it reaches Ryan’s hometown of Janesville to the west. Republicans have filled the seat since 1995, with Ryan serving the area for all but four of those years. But Democrats – and even a Progressive Party member – have held it over the years, including former Clinton administration Defense Secretary Les Aspin.
Democrats would need to convert more than two dozen seats to retake the majority in Congress. So far there’s little indication they will put extra effort into toppling Ryan, the House Budget chairman. Throughout his career, Ryan has far outperformed the top of his party’s ticket, including in 2008 when President Barack Obama narrowly won a district that Ryan racked up 64 percent of the vote.
Ryan’s opponent back home is Rob Zerban, a former Kenosha County board member and catering company owner. At last report, Ryan’s $5.4 million campaign stockpile was 10 times bigger than what Zerban had at his disposal.
But Zerban argues that he can benefit from the heightened scrutiny Ryan will be under as a national candidate.
“He’s now on a national stage. This budget is going to receive such scrutiny that people as they find out more and more about it, they’re going to reject it wholeheartedly,” Zerban said.
Retired purchasing manager Jon Flora, 68, of Janesville, said it doesn’t bother him if Ryan puts less energy into running for Congress. His wife, Vicki, a retired banker, chimed in that she doubts it will matter anyway.
“He’s untouchable,” she said. “You’ve got to like him even if you don’t want to.”
Airline pilot John Catlin, 48, lamented that Ryan running for vice president would rob the district of a powerful voice in Congress. He said a double run could leave people confused.
“A lot of people will be wondering which office he’s really trying to get,” Catlin said. “Do you vote for him twice?”
Four years ago, Vice President Joe Biden found himself in the same spot. He was Obama’s vice presidential selection, as well as the Democratic nominee for Senate in Delaware.
Christine O’Donnell, Biden’s Republican opponent that year, made a stink about the incumbent “blowing off the people of Delaware.” He skipped every forum for candidates for statewide office and sent surrogates to read prepared statements.
It didn’t hurt him a bit: Biden won with almost 65 percent of the vote – his largest win margin in seven races. He never served a day of the term, resigning to assume the vice presidency.
In 2000, Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman easily won a new Senate term while he was the running mate of unsuccessful presidential nominee Al Gore.
Back in Wisconsin, Ryan campaign manager Kevin Seifert said his team knew Romney could tap the congressman when they developed their game plan. Ryan spent his summer as he normally does, hitting local parades and holding town halls.
“Voters know Paul very well. That’s not going to change in the fall because he hasn’t been here,” Seifert said.
Bumper stickers and stacks of signature green “Ryan for Congress” are ready for distribution. At his campaign headquarters last week, a handful of workers carried on last week with typical campaign tasks. During a brief Wisconsin homecoming, Ryan met privately with a few dozen family and staff members to thank them for their efforts and to urge them on.
In the days before Romney made his choice public, Ryan crammed in ad shoots at various spots around town featuring supporters and testing out lines he would use in his debut remarks as a vice presidential candidate.
Supporter Cheryl Gray, a former furniture store owner who appears in some scenes, grew suspicious when a Sunday shoot was suddenly canceled. That was when Ryan secretly traveled east to meet with Romney and his vetting team. The filming resumed Monday and Tuesday and when Gray asked Ryan if he’d be joining Romney on a swing state bus tour, she said he played coy.
“He was kind of taken aback,” Gray said. “He really did not let on.”
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this story.