Rep. Paul Ryan, announced Saturday as Mitt Romney's running mate, is a lawyer's son from Wisconsin who has become a genial, relentless force in Capitol Hill politics — uniting a fractured and squabbling GOP behind his plan to remake the federal budget.
Ryan, 42, was elected to Congress at 28, and is now in his seventh term. He lives with his wife, two sons and a daughter in Janesville, Wis., the river city where he grew up as part of a prominent local family.
He is Catholic and has cited that faith — as well as the libertarian author Ayn Rand — as major influences on his political views.
On Capitol Hill, Ryan has been known for his intense pursuit of his hobbies. In the House gym, he participates in grueling morning workouts, using the P90X regimen. On the weekends, press reports have said, he enjoys bow-hunting and "noodling," which is catching catfish using a hand stuck down their gullets.
But Ryan has been mainly known as his caucus' intellectual leader: No one in the House or Senate has done more to map an agenda for the modern, tea party-infused GOP. Ryan has done it via his complex Republican budgets, which call for reducing the federal deficit by remaking big-spending programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
What Ryan hasn't done, at least so far, is sell himself and his ideas to a national audience.
In a recent CNN poll, 54 percent of the public said they either didn't know him at all or had no opinion about him.
This is the audience that Ryan — and Romney — must now face.
On Saturday morning, Ryan began that process. In his first appearance as Romney's running mate, he referenced a personal story that sets him apart from Romney's privileged upbringing - a background that includes stints working the grill at McDonald's, selling bologna and bartending at a Mexican restaurant on Capitol Hill.
"I represent a part of America that includes inner cities, rural areas, suburbs and factory towns," Ryan said in his first speech with Romney, in Norfolk, Va. He said he saw dark clouds in the everyday lives of people in those places: "There is something different in their voice and in their words. What I hear from them are diminished dreams, lowered expectations, uncertain futures."
The campaign is less likely to highlight another difference between Ryan and Romney. Unlike Romney, with his long experience in the private sector, Ryan has spent almost all his adult life in Washington politics.
Between his graduation from college in the late 1980s and his election to Congress in 1998, Ryan worked for the Senate Small Business Committee under Sen. Bob Kasten, R-Wis., then for a pair of conservative think tanks called Empower America and the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution. After that, he became a legislative director for Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan.
As a congressman, Ryan's greatest success has been the crafting of a document that few people outside Washington understand: the House budget. This is not actually a set of orders to spend real money. Instead, it is a theoretical document designed to guide government thinking and policy.
Ryan's two most recent budgets have proposed a series of historic shakeups to programs that touch millions of Americans' lives. They have proposed raising the eligibility age for Medicare to 67 and rejiggering the program for those who turn 65 after 2023. For these future seniors, Ryan's plan would end the traditional Medicare system and instead offer a set amount of government money with which to purchase insurance from private carriers. The budgets also proposed reducing spending on programs for the poor, such as Medicaid and food stamps.