How the Paul Ryan pick is playing for some Illinois Republicans

August 13, 2012

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(WBEZ/Sam Hudzik)
Harry Alten, on his farm in McHenry County, has high hopes for the Romney-Ryan ticket.

United States Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin continues a hectic campaign schedule Monday as he heads to the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.

There’s been glowing reaction to Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s running mate from Republican politicians and pundits, around the country and in Illinois. But what about Republican voters?

Before the March primary election, WBEZ tracked three Illinois Republicans as they made their presidential picks. Now it's time to check back in, and see how they feel about Romney’s vice-presidential choice.

'Proof that Romney is serious'

Niala Boodhoo spoke with Wisconsin Public Radio's state capital reporter Shawn Johnson on Monday morning about Mitt Romney's nomination of WI Congressman Paul Ryan for Vice President.

I chatted with Eva Sorock on Sunday afternoon. And like every Sunday afternoon, she was getting ready for the weekly family dinner, pulling stuff out of the oven.

"We’re making a shrimp casserole," Eva says. "And my husband has taken up ice cream making so we don’t have to worry about that. Having asparagus, and I made some cookies. So it’s just kind of a regular American dinner."

A regular American dinner in north suburban Wilmette. Pretty much all of Eva’s family is happy about the selection of Paul Ryan as the Republican vice-presidential pick.

"It’s a great, great feeling because he was really my first choice from the very beginning," she said.

And not Eva’s first choice for vice-president. Paul Ryan was her first choice for president. When I talked to her during the primary campaign, she kept telling me how she wished there were other candidates, such as Paul Ryan.

"He’s the mover and shaker of the Tea Party people," she said.

Eva is a Tea Partier, 65 years old, a blogger. She voted for former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum in Illinois’ March primary.

But she was warming to Romney even before the Paul Ryan pick. She wears a Romney button. She said she plans on volunteering for him, even though she practically swore to me in March she wasn’t going to get involved - angry that the party’s moderates had won again.

"I mean, I always give in in the end," Eva said with a resigned chuckle. "I mean, the biggest problems we have are defeating Obama. And we do believe in elections and Romney won the primary."

And now his VP choice has won him excitement - from Eva, at least.

She said Ryan has never been afraid to talk about cuts to entitlements - Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare. She called his fiscal plans “radical,” and she meant that in a good way. On Friday, when Eva heard the news, she ran to Twitter to celebrate.

"We have some proof that Romney is serious about doing something about the problems in the country and not just gonna sort of try and glide into the presidency," Eva said.

So even though it’s obvious Eva would rather have Paul Ryan at the very top of the ticket, she’ll settle for #2.

'He gets it'

Another Illinois Republican who Romney needed to work on after the divisive primary was Amy Sejnost Kovacevic, a 37-year-old from Downers Grove. She picked Newt Gingrich in the primary.

There was just always something about Romney - Amy could never figure out exactly what it was - that she wasn’t comfortable with. She’s a loyal Republican - a precinct committeeman - who is firmly backing her party’s nominee. But, to some extent, that funny feeling about Romney remains.

"And I can’t put exactly my finger on it still. I don’t know if it’s how he speaks. He speaks with convictions, but [Romney's] not a Paul Ryan," Amy said.

Amy heard Ryan speak in May at a lunch gathering. She described her seat location with an enthusiasm you more often hear about for concerts or baseball games.

"When I heard him speak, I was literally five tables away from him," she said. "He just - he gets it."

Ryan is relatively young, 42, which Amy likes. He can speak for her generation on the impact of long-term debt issues.

And there’s another thing at play here.

"You know, Paul Ryan is a devout Catholic. I am Catholic. I like that. I’m not saying Mormon isn’t favorable. I’m just saying - Paul Ryan ties more into my beliefs in Christianity, if you will," Amy said.

One of Amy’s jobs as precinct committeeman is to get folks in her neighborhood to vote, and vote for Republicans. She hasn’t started yet. She thinks everyone needs a bit more time to learn about the Romney-Ryan partnership. That’s something Harry Alten could appreciate.

'Heck of a good chance of winning'

The 74-year-old farmer from McHenry County doesn’t know much of anything about Paul Ryan. And this week, at least, he doesn’t have a lot of time to learn. He’s working a food booth at the state fair for the Illinois Speciality Growers Association. Harry is the chairman.

"We’re selling sweet corn - boiled sweet corn on the cob. We have cider slushes - with apple cider run through a slush machine. We have watermelon, cantaloupes, ice cream - you know, soft serve ice cream - and popcorn," he said.

This weekend, Harry’s two grown nieces visited the food booth. He said they talked about Ryan.

"Both of them said the same thing: 'He’s a good looking man. He’s got white teeth, good hair, good eyes. He looks honest,'" Harry recalled, laughing. "I asked Cathy, my one niece, I said, 'What do you think about his political attributions, do you know where he comes from?' 'No, but he’s dreamy.'"

Harry caught Paul Ryan on the TV Sunday and was impressed. He heard Ryan talk about business growth, about limited government.

"He was talking about what they should be doing," Harry said. "You know, and how bad this is - the economy is and this administration is terrible. You know, all the political rhetoric."

Politics have Harry annoyed at the moment. He’s upset Congress didn’t pass a farm bill, maddeningly poor timing given that farmers - himself included - are looking at incredibly small harvests due to the drought.

But Harry’s got hope for this Republican ticket. He likes what he’s hearing, but wants to hear more.

"And give me some straight answers. You know what I mean?" he said. "Some positive thoughts on it, not just political rhetoric. Then I would say you’d have one hell of a good - I’m sorry - one heck of a good chance of winning."

Oh, you can say hell on the radio, Harry. Just like you, we like straight-talk.