Congressman Paul Ryan had a lousy November 6.
The famously health-conscious Republican nominee, who admitted that he was “running on empty,” was forced to fly to Cleveland, Ohio, with running mate Mitt Romney for Election Day campaigning that seemed to be focused on lunching at a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant. Ryan pounded a quarter-pounder combo meal but passed on the Frosty dessert that Romney enjoyed.
Then they were off to lose the 2012 election. Decisively.
Romney said some nice things about his running mate in a brief concession speech early Wednesday morning. But Ryan was not invited to make remarks. And it was clear enough by then that Ryan’s contribution to the ticket was, indeed, viewed as a discreet one.
Ryan, whose selection as Romney’s running mate was once considered key to carrying the wring state of Wisconsin for the Republicans, turned out to be a miserable addition to the ticket. Not only didn’t he help win the state, he couldn’t even win his hometown of Janesville, which went overwhelmingly for the Democratic ticket of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and surrounding Rock County, which gave the Romney-Ryan ticket just 39 percent of the vote.
It was even worse in Ryan's “safety” race for his seat in the US House of Representatives. The seven-term congressman kept his seat, thanks to partisan redistricting that grabbed off a chunk of Republican Waukesha County and attached it to Ryan’s southeastern Wisconsin’s district. Yet despite the machinations that made his 1st District decidedly more Republican, prevailed by the narrowest margin of his career—over Democratic challenger Rob Zerban.
Ryan ran especially badly close to home, losing Janesville and the portion of Rock County that is in the 1st. It wasn’t even that close: Zerban won almost 52 percent to Ryan’s 46 percent.
What made Ryan such an unappealing contender with hometown voters? The same thing that made Ryan such an appealing target for Democratic contenders around the country, such as Alan Grayson, who made opposition to the House Budget Committee chairman’s agenda central to a successful run for a new House seat representing Florida.
Ryan’s “Roadmap for America’s Future” budget plan outlined an American austerity agenda that takes pieces out of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in order to pad the pockers of Wall Street speculators, the for-profit insurance industry and wealthy campaign donors.
That didn’t play well in Janesville.
But what played even worse was Ryan’s attempt to play politics with the most traumatic event in the recent history of Janesville: the closing of the General Motors plant that for the better part of a century was the city’s top employer.
Ryan knew the plant closed at the end of the Bush years, yet he tried to suggest in his speech to the Republican National Convention that Barack Obama had something to do with it.
That political chicanery cost Ryan—not just in Janesville but across a congressional district that takes seriously the loss of auto jobs.
From his first congressional race in 1998 to his 2010 run, Paul Ryan never won less than 57 percent of the vote. And he has usually broken the 65 percent mark. Two years ago, he got 68 percent districtwide.
On Tuesday night, his total fell to 54.9 percent, a career low. And he didn’t just lose Rock County. He also lost Kenosha County, the other part of the district to lose a major auto plant in recent years.
Wisconsinites never really paid much attention to Paul Ryan until this year. When Mitt Romney put Ryan on the national Republican ticket, Wisconsinites did listen to the hometown boy made good. But they were, obviously, unimpresssed.