WASHINGTON – Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said Friday that he’s given Mitt Romney some personal advice: talk more about yourself.
“I’m not the only one who has told Mitt that maybe he needs to talk more about himself and his life,” the Wisconsin congressman told an audience of social conservatives gathered for the yearly Values Voters Summit. “It wouldn’t hurt if voters knew more of those little things that reveal a man’s heart and his character.”
Romney, who spoke to the gathering last year but took a pass this time, dispatched Ryan to appear on his behalf before this core part of the GOP base. Social conservatives and evangelical Christians never have fully warmed to the former Massachusetts governor, given his Mormon faith and past reversals on social issues they hold dear. But Ryan is one of their own: a Catholic with an unblemished anti-abortion voting record in Congress and a reputation as a crusader for fiscal conservatism.
In his 30-minute speech, Ryan sought to energize these so-called values voters – a key portion of the GOP base that Romney’s campaign needs to help organize voters and turn out in droves for him in November.
He also delivered a blistering critique of President Barack Obama’s position on abortion, saying the president stands for an “absolute, unqualified right to abortion.”
Ryan also discussed his own religion, saying: “I am a Catholic, not because anyone has ordered me to accept a creed, but because of the grace and truth revealed in my faith – and that’s how we all feel about the faiths we hold.”
He received several standing ovations during the address. Two protesters who interrupted him and were quickly escorted out of the hotel ballroom where Ryan spoke.
At several points during his remarks, Ryan appeared to try to sell Romney to skeptics in the audience, which remained mostly silent as Ryan spoke about the nominee. He capped his remarks with a testament to Romney’s values.
Ryan called Romney a “trustworthy, faithful and honorable man” who is “not only a defender of marriage – he offers an example of marriage at its best.”
“He’s a man who could easily have contented himself with giving donations to needy causes, but everyone who knows him well will tell you that Mitt has always given himself,” Ryan said. “He’s one of those guys who doesn’t just exhort and oversee good works, but shows up and does the work.”
Ryan also called Romney “a modest man with a charitable heart, a doer and a promise-keeper.”
Some social conservatives said they were impressed with Romney’s selection of Ryan, saying it helped this part of the Republican base begin to fall in line behind Romney.
“When he came on board there was tremendous energy from the grass-roots,” said Bryan Fischer, an official with the American Family Association.
“It was a bold pick,” said Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, which spearheads the Values Voters Summit. “With Ryan comes, as you heard here today, a very strong statement.”
Perkins, a former Louisiana state lawmaker, said the imperative to beat Obama is great enough to overcome any objections evangelical voters may have about Romney. He said he’s reaching out to the network of pastors he previously had tapped to help former Sen. Rick Santorum, a Romney rival, during the primary campaign, and is urging them to help Romney in the general election.
In an interview, Perkins said he met alone with Romney about two months ago, and they discussed the difference between Romney’s Mormonism and the evangelical community Perkins belongs to.
“He and I have talked about this. When it comes to evangelicals, and Mormons, we have theological differences, and they’re significant, and we’re not going to gloss over those,” Perkins said. “But we have a shared concern for this country. And we have a shared set of values that can help get the nation back on track. And that’s what he is emphasizing and that’s what I think he needs to continue to emphasize to draw social conservatives into his campaign.”
Others, though, accused Romney’s campaign of limiting Ryan’s role in the campaign – and by extension hurting outreach to social conservatives.
“The biggest mistake is they’ve put a bag over Paul Ryan’s head,” said Fischer, who had sparked controversy previously by criticizing the Mormon faith. That’s the biggest mistake they’ve made. They’ve put a sock in Paul Ryan’s mouth.”