Inquiring minds want to know when Mitt Romney decided his running mate was Paul Ryan and how he kept it under wraps…
Wonder no more; here’s the tale (and what a tale it is!):
MANASSAS, Va. - The story could have been ripped straight from the pages of a Cold War-era spy novel: There were sunglasses and baseball caps, decoys and back routes through the woods.
As presidential candidate Mitt Romney settled on his running mate, Paul Ryan, his campaign over the course of 10 days went to extraordinary lengths to conceal the information and meetings between himself and Ryan from the eyes of an eager press corps.
The search began not long after Romney wrapped up the nomination. On Apr. 16, he announced that Beth Myers, his senior advisor and a longtime aide, would lead his VP search committee. “I had one directive,” Myers said in a briefing with reporters on Saturday evening. “That the candidates must be qualified to take office on day one.”
Working in a secure room at campaign headquarters in Boston, for the next six weeks Myers sought advice from others who had been given the same task in other campaigns: Dick Cheney (his daughter Liz Cheney was also included), and former Secty of State James Baker. By the beginning of May, a small circle of advisors had crafted a short list of ‘possibilities’. Myers won’t say how many were considered, only that “there was never an issue of too few candidates.” After a series of phone calls, Romney had spoken to everyone on the list. Not one refused to be considered for V.P.
Myers and her trusted advisors issued questionnaires to the candidates and tracked research, policy information, public records, etc. All documentation was secretly ensconced in individual safes at Boston campaign headquarters so nothing could be leaked. No photocopies were made. (Note: Just this past Friday, reporters leaving Romney’s campaign headquarters saw a worker wearing a ‘Shred-It’ shirt carry five bags out of the building.)
By mid-June preliminary reports were presented to Governor Romney. Since some issues needed further clarification, he met with several candidates to resolve questions. Myers said Romney talked to a lot of people, consulting with his senior advisors and others. “A lot of people,” Myers said. “He talked with a lot of people.”
On July 2, she gave Romney the completed folders and he began to consider the options before he left on his overseas trip.
By June, Myers was ready to interview the top candidates, and a retreat for top donors in Park City, Utah, provided cover. The short-listers were brought in ostensibly to talk policy with Republican financiers, but also were able to slip away for meetings with Myers.
While Romney was vacationing in Wolfeboro, N.H. during the week of July 4, Myers made the trip north with a few advisors with plans to review the final dossiers. Romney postponed a final decision until after his trip abroad at the end of July, and assembled his top advisors for a final “gut check.” Romney then informed Myers of his choice on Aug. 1.
“This is Mitt’s decision. He gave me direction every step of the way,” said Myers, who said she opted not to share her thoughts with Romney on the advice of an old mentor.
The same day, they placed a call from her office to Ryan to arrange a meeting for Sunday, Aug. 5. Romney had not yet extended an offer.
Operation V.P. now suddenly increased in intrigue and intricacy. The media was closely watching Romney, his advisors, potential candidates’ homes, and tracking any and all comings and goings.
“We gave a lot of thought on how to make this work undetected,” Myers said.
The plot thickens…
Four days later, Ryan traveled to Chicago from his hometown of Janesville, Wis., where he flew from to Hartford, Conn. — both locations chosen to avoid media attention. Having been instructed by the Romney campaign to “dress casually,” he wore jeans, a casual shirt, a baseball hat and sunglasses.
In Hartford, Myers’ 19-year-old son picked Ryan up at the airport in a rented SUV and brought him to her home in Brookline, Mass., about 100 miles away. [The SUV was driven directly into Myers’ garage so neighbors would be none the wiser.] A short time later, Romney himself arrived at the house, along with four of his top aides: Ed Gillespie, Matt Rhodes, Bob White, and Spencer Zwick.
While the group entertained itself in Myers’ home, Romney and Ryan met for an hour privately in the dining room. When they came out, Myers said, “It was all set.”
“We talked about the campaign and how it would be run and talked about how we’d work together if we get the White House. What the relationship would be, how we’d interact and be involved in important decisions, but we talked about our families, what this meant for them,” Romney told reporters traveling with him on the plane Saturday night.
After receiving the call to meet with Mitt, Ryan later said he had a hunch he was going to be asked to be the Governor’s running mate. He said accepting the offer was an easy decision because “we’ve got to save the country.” However, as news spread of the shootings at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, located in Ryan’s district, the new V.P. nominee didn’t have much time to think about how his life had just changed. The same day the campaign had decided to roll out the vice presidential pick in New Hampshire was the same day as the funeral service for the victims of the tragic shootings.
As Beth Myers recounted the story, she said this is where the operation got a little complicated:
On Friday, Ryan and his family attended the memorial service for the Sikh temple shootings. After the service his wife Janna and two children made their way to an airport in Waukegan, Ill., while Ryan returned home. To anyone observing the comings and goings at the home, it would have appeared as if Ryan had turned in for the remainder of the day.
Instead, at around 2 p.m., the seven-term congressman walked out the back door of his house and into a wooded area that bordered his property. Ryan had grown up near the woods and knew them well — crossing through the trees put him in the driveway of his childhood home, the rendezvous point. He quickly made his way through the woods - passing a childhood tree fort he had visited as a child - and was away to Waukegan, where he joined his family on a flight to Elizabeth City, N.C.
Upon landing, the group was taken to a nearby Fairfield Inn where they were met by Myers, her husband and a small group of Romney aides. After a meal of Applebee’s, they finished preparing for Ryan’s speech the next day, sent out the advisory letting the world know, “and then I turned my phone off,” Myers said.
As we now know, the next morning history would be made. Mitt Romney introduced the United States of America to his running mate, Paul Ryan.
“It’s gone from the surreal to the real,” Ryan told reporters on the plane after his first full day of campaigning with Romney. “By the time we met in person, I kind of knew it was going to happen and I was very humbled; it was the biggest honor I’ve ever been given in my life.”
After the VP announcement, Romney and Ryan immediately kicked off the first day of their journey together - a four-day, 12-city, blue-state bus tour. Here’s a look at Ryan’s first ride in the Romney bus as they were greeted by cheering crowds lining the streets in Manassas, Virginia:
Follow Jayde Wyatt on Twitter @YayforSummer