DAYTON, Ohio -- Paul Ryan jogged onto the stage at his alma mater Wednesday afternoon and jokingly asked the crowd at Miami University, "Did my professor say good things about me?"
Ryan was referring to Richard Hart, the economics professor who became an early mentor to the young Wisconsin native who spent four years at the university known to college football fans as "Miami of Ohio," to distinguish it from what fans of the Red Hawks refer to as "that Florida school." And indeed, Professor Hart did have good things to say about his former student.
"Paul is a man of ideas, a man of vision," Hart said during his introduction, recalling how he had discussed with Ryan the ideas of economists Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman.
Two decades after graduating from Miami, Ryan has suddenly become the university's most famous alumnus, even more famous than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The formative influence Hart had on the young Ryan has, just as suddenly, made Hart one of the nation's most famous economics professors. In the past five days, Hart has been interviewed by reporters from the Washington Post and dozens of other news organizations seeking insight into the views of Ryan, the 42-year-old House Budget Committee chairman tapped Saturday as Republican Mitt Romney's vice-presidential running mate.
No Miami alumnus has ever had a homecoming like the one Ryan got Wednesday, as thousands lined up to get into the quad where Ryan spoke after introductions by Gov. John Kasich, Sen. Rob Portman and Hart. Attendees had to enter the venue through metal detectors and the crowd was under constant surveillance by Secret Service agents, some of them posted atop the roofs of nearby campus buildings.
Ryan began his Miami speech by paying tribute to the staples of undergraduate life at the campus in Oxford, Ohio. Among other things, Ryan proclaimed his love for the "Five Way," a dish of spaghetti, cheese, chili, beans and onions served at the Skyline Chili restaurant on High Street. He soon turned his attention to the issues of the campaign, telling the crowd: "We are here to offer you a clear choice."
Ryan mentioned that President Obama had given a speech Wednesday about Medicare, and the Republican issued a bold challenge. "We want this debate, we need this debate, and we will win this debate," Ryan said. The Romney campaign has already begun that debate, issuing a press release Wednesday pointing out that Obama's campaign spokeswoman called more than $700 billion in cuts to Medicare -- cuts used to fund the so-called Obamacare health insurance program -- "savings we've already achieved."
Ryan's mastery of fiscal and economic details prompted blogger David "Iowahawk" Burge to remark: "Paul Ryan represents Obama's most horrifying nightmare: math." If voters can be made to focus on the numbers -- including the administration's record deficit spending and historically high unemployment -- it seems unlikely that the Democrat incumbent can be re-elected. And polls indicate that the "Ryan Effect" may already be making a difference. Not only does the Romney-Ryan ticket now lead both the Gallup and Rasmussen national tracking polls, but the latest Ohio polls also indicate a bounce for the Republicans since Ryan was announced as Romney's running mate.
No poll is necssary to confirm a fact evident to any reporter who has covered the Romney campaign the past five days: Crowds are bigger and more enthusiastic, and the choice of Ryan has not only energized grassroots support, but appears also to have energized Romney, whose attacks on Obama's policies have become more intense and aggressive. Republicans now appear fired up for a fighting campaign this fall, and nowhere will the fight be fiercer than in Ohio, a state whose 18 Electoral College votes have been decisive in previous elections.
"Ohio is so important," Ryan told the crowd who turned out for his homecoming visit to Miami University. "You know this. You're used to it. The Buckeye State could very well determine the future of our country for a long time.… This is the kind of election that shapes generations."
Ryan concluded by expressing confidence that the Republicans will win that election: "We can get this economy growing. We can keep the government limited. We can get the job done. We can put people back to work. Together we can get this done."