How Paul Ryan can win blue-collar voters
“He reminds me of John Kennedy — young, visionary, and able to really connect with people,” is how a German radio reporter described Paul Ryan to Human Events after seeing the Republican vice presidential hopeful address an overflow crowd in Maryland Friday. Since he was tapped to be Mitt Romney’s running mate on Aug. 13, the Wisconsin congressman is drawing enthusiastic audiences numbering in the thousands, from Iowa to Virginia and Maryland to Florida.
This and all things Ryan are being widely reported. But one little-reported but politically potent fact about Paul Ryan is how well the vice presidential nominee-to-be performs among historically Democratic blue-collar voters.
“I’m solidly Democratic, but I do respect him,” a careworker named Cindy from Ryan’s hometown of Janesville told the Financial Times last week. She might well have been speaking for many other voters like her in the Badger State’s 1st District, which the last three Democratic presidential hopefuls have carried, but where Ryan has never been re-elected with less than 63 percent of the vote.
There is evidence that the congressman’s ability to woo voters across party lines is now at work in the race for electoral votes in his own state. A just-completed Rasmussen Poll showed the Romney-Ryan ticket leading Obama-Biden in Wisconsin among likely voters by a margin of 48-to-47 percent — the first poll in the state Rasmussen has conducted since Ryan was tapped for the ticket by Romney and a turnaround from July’s figure showing Obama leading Romney 49 to 46 percent in Wisconsin.
“Certainly part of Paul’s appeal is that he is approachable and likeable — and that helps because he never backs down from the bold things he is known for,” veteran Wisconsin GOP consultant Scott Becher, who has known Ryan for several years, told Human Events. “Whether it’s entitlement reform or the cutting of certain social programs or lowering tax rates, he explains it and you know where he stands.”
“He goes into events where there is an audience, say, of union members who could be hostile. And he will listen to them vent and disagree and then will say ‘let me explain.’ He’s not a (New Jersey Gov. Chris) Christie, who will say ‘shut up’ and look as though he’s asking for a big fight.”
Clout with blue collar voters — and fellow Catholics
There is ample opportunity for conservative Republican Ryan (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 91.69 percent) to encounter hostile audiences in his district. Although redistricting last year gave the Wisconsin 1st a small Republican advantage among registered voters, there are still ample pockets of manufacturing plants and Democratic union members — notably, the United Auto Workers.
Ryan not only listens to these voters but has worked with them on crucial issues. In 2008, he joined with local Democratic leaders in an attempt to save the General Motors factory in Janesville that had been there for 90 years. Ryan also has cast some votes that are frowned upon on the right: opposing legislation to end or weaken the Davis-Bacon Act and thus allowing federally-funded building projects to employ workers at wages below those of unionized labor; his two votes to support the $25 billion auto bailout and his 2008 vote for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout. Ryan has also voted to raise the minimum wage.
“Sure, Paul has cast some votes that could be called ‘non-conservative,’” said Becher, “but overall his record is conservative and he doesn’t run away from it. And even people who don’t agree with him on everything say they admire him because he’s a man of bold ideas. And that will help Romney, because he hasn’t been identified that way in the minds of most voters.”
Becher and others also pointed to Ryan’s reputation as a strong social conservative in a district where the Roman Catholic Church is influential and where many blue-collar Democrats are devout Roman Catholics, as is Ryan. As Becher put it, “you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of Ryan’s identification as a man of faith in a blue-collar district where pro-life and pro-marriage positions cross party lines.
As much as the national media has seconded Obama strategist David Axelrod’s description of Paul Ryan as “a certifiable rightwing ideologue,” the truth of his record and views is rather different. And it is something that has worked for the Republican vice presidential nominee in territory that is certainly not “rightwing.”