DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) — Paul Ryan is sorry you couldn’t get into his event here. He feels badly you had to wait for him to arrive at the county fairgrounds in Virginia. He wants to meet you but he promises he won’t disrupt business by staying too long at your New Hampshire restaurant.
Oh, and please, he says, take a seat.
Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin and Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick, is a model of unassuming, Midwestern courtesy, and that will be on display later this week when Ryan debates Vice President Joe Biden.
With a relaxed and polite style, Ryan easily does what the top of the GOP ticket – Romney – struggles to do: connect with voters on a personal level while engaging in retail politicking.
When Romney campaigns alongside the No. 2 on the ticket, Ryan’s casual attitude and, well, simple tone seem to soften Romney’s sometimes awkward stature and bracingly formal approach. It’s a dynamic that would probably play out if the pair won the White House. Should Romney lose the race this year, the ease at which Ryan works a crowd would be an asset if he chose to seek the presidency himself someday.
Ryan’s celebrity rise in the two months since being named Romney’s running mate hasn’t seemed to change his mild Wisconsin manners – or his willingness to engage with just about anyone.
“Paul is an accessible person who you can walk up to and talk to,” said Ted Kanavas, a former state senator who represented Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis. “That’s the Paul we know and that’s the Paul we’re sharing with the country.”
These days, “please” and “thank you” from Ryan are as common as the campaign posters posted at his events. Even surrounded by Secret Service agents, veteran political handlers and a presidential-sized entourage, Ryan often says he regrets voters’ inconveniences.
“I’m sorry you couldn’t get in. The fire marshal cut it off,” Ryan told an overflow crowd that packed the lawn in front of the college gym here this week. “But I want you to know that I will come out and see you after this and I really appreciate it.”
He was similarly apologetic during a recent visit to a county fairground in Harrisonburg, Va.
“I want to thank you for coming here today, for standing in line, for being patient, for going through these metal things,” he said. “You feel like you’re getting on a plane sometimes, don’t `cha?”
Even when making an unannounced stop to a restaurant, he asks diners for permission to take a minute of their time in the midst of their meals.
“Mind if I say `hi’?” Ryan asked patrons on one visit to Manchester, N.H. “I don’t want to interrupt people.”
At the next table, he said he didn’t want to stay so long that their food would become cold.
“I just wanted to say `hi,'” he said. “I don’t want to keep you from your food.”
He was clearly surprised when one voter informed him that it was National Banana Split Day. He put his hands on his hips – and apologized for his ignorance.
“I don’t want to make it melt,” he said, nodding to the heaping scoops of ice cream and whipped cream that had arrived moments before he did.
Diners at another table offered him a taste of their chicken fingers. Known for keeping a strict, healthy diet, Ryan said the fried food is a favorite meal for his daughter but took a pass, saying, “I don’t want to take food off your plate.”
Sometimes, he praises his opening acts with a casual, best-friend terminology.
“Thanks, buddy,” Ryan said to Sen. Rand Paul’s kind words in Ohio.
And when reporters traveling with him were visibly sweating under the searing sun, he took a minute and tossed them bottles of water.
At a raucous send-off rally in his Wisconsin hometown, he paused after a few minutes to urge his neighbors to stop standing.
“Please, have a seat,” he implored the gymnasium of the high school where he played soccer and ran track. “If you have seats, grab them. I don’t want to make you stand the whole time.”
Often, he introduces himself simply.
“Hi. I’m Paul,” he says.
He asks where folks are from. His follow-up, no matter their answer: “Yeah? I’m from Wisconsin.”
As if they couldn’t tell by his low-key Midwestern style.