Mooresville, N.C. -- On their second full day of campaigning together, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are taking advantage of enormous crowds and an intense media spotlight to help reshape their public images, and to defend one another's personal biographies, with a particular focus on shoring up perceived weaknesses.
Romney, speaking last, praised Ryan's work in Congress, where he has spent the last seven terms representing Wisconsin's First District, but pitched to a crowd of nearly 2,000 that Ryan had gone to Washington at the expense of his career, rather than as a career.
"His career ambition was not to go to Washington. That is not what he wanted to do, but he became concerned about what was happening in the country and wanted to get America back on track and so he put aside the plans he had for his career and said I'm going to go and serve, and he's done that and he's put the country and policies to get America right again ahead of ambition," Romney told the crowd at a NASCAR technical facility here.
But that interpretation of Ryan's career clashes with his actual biography. After graduating with a degree in economics and political science, Ryan moved to Washington to work as a congressional staffer, having already become familiar with campaigns as a volunteer for Ohio congressman John Boehner, now House speaker. Ryan returned the private sector and Wisconsin only briefly, before being elected to Congress at age 28.
Ryan's career in the public sector has been seen by some political analysts as a potential liability on the Romney ticket, where executive competence and a Washington-outsider persona have long been the hallmarks of the campaign. Yesterday, Ryan suggested his legislative skills could help Romney in governing more than they might hurt the brand in campaigning.
“I believe that my record of getting things done in Congress will be a very helpful complement to Governor Romney’s executive and private sector success outside of Washington,” Ryan said in Norfolk.
Ryan also returned the favor for Romney today, burnishing the GOP nominee's biography, including his tenure as head of the 2002 Olympics, and as Massachusetts governor, an oft-overlooked period for a candidate who prefers to focus on his business experience.
"His country asked him to move to Salt Lake, to turn it around and save the Olympics, he did it and we're so proud of that moment," Ryan said. "The contrast could not be more clear. When he was governor of Massachusetts, he balanced the budget without raising taxes. President Obama has given us budgets with no balance ever and a lot of new taxes."
The setting at NASCAR's technical institute was designed to let another bit of Romney's personal biography and personality peek out: he's a car guy, and the Romney logo-emblazoned stock car behind him was too good to resist.
"You see as a boy my dad made Ramblers, alright? And I only dreamed of cars like that," Romney said, eyeing the car. "To have my name on a car like that it's just too much."
"It must have been tough for my girlfriend to be able to go out on that first date with me in that red rambler we had," Romney said, introducing his wife Ann, who spoke on stage for the first time since the Ryan announcement.
For the Romney campaign, today's event in which thousands of supporters overflowed into parking lots outside, is expected to be the smallest of three major rallies here, and in Wisconsin.
Most of the energy at the event came from seeing the ticket for the first time, but some, surely, came from stock car driver Darrell Waltrip who, pacing the stage in the pre-program, offered advice for Romney seemingly ripped from the Will Ferrell movie "Talladega Nights," and got the crowd cheering uproariously.
"I have a little advice for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan: Boogity Boogity Boogity!"