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For Ryan, journey to being Romney's running mate went 'from surreal to real'

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Photo - Mitt Romney announces Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan( R) as his vice presidential running mate during a campaign rally at the Nauticus Museum after touring the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk. (Getty Images)
Mitt Romney announces Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan( R) as his vice presidential running mate during a campaign rally at the Nauticus Museum after touring the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk. (Getty Images)
Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Campaign 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The search for Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate began in a locked room in Boston and ended with Paul Ryan darting through the woods behind his house, giving the slip to suspicious reporters as he headed to his debut in Virginia on Saturday.

Hours after Romney introduced Ryan as his ticketmate in Norfolk, Va., Beth Myers, the top Romney aide who led his vice presidential vetting process, explained how the process unfolded between April and August and how the campaign successfully managed to keep his choice secret despite the widespread interest and speculation.

Myers said the campaign started with "a very deep bench" of prospects - including current and former governors - and whittled that list down by Aug. 1 with the help of Romney's closest advisors, including Ed Gillespie, Matt Rhodes, Ron Kaufman and a number of others from outside the campaign.

"He talked with a lot of people," Myers said.

Lawyers back in Boston were asked to compile research files on each candidate, though those reports were never copied and were locked nightly in a safe, she said.

In early July, while Romney was vacationing with his family on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire, Myers presented him with a short list of candidates.

But it was not until Aug. 1, when Romney returned from Europe after a three-country tour, that Myers again sat down with him to discuss the finalists. That's when Romney told her he had decided on Ryan, the seven-term Wisconsin congressman.

Romney and Myers placed a call to Ryan's home in Janesville, Wis., but didn't give him the news. Instead, they asked him to meet Romney in a secret location - Myers' dinning room in Brookline, Mass.

Ryan told reporters on Saturday he suspected Romney had chosen him. He flew into Hartford, Conn., dressed in jeans, his face hidden by a baseball cap and sunglasses. Unnoticed, Ryan was shuttled to and from the airport in a rented SUV driven by Myers' 19-year-old son, Curt.

Romney drove down to Myers' house from his vacation home in Wolfeboro and was sitting alone with Ryan in the dining room when he asked Ryan to join him on the Republican ticket. Ryan remembers feeling humbled and honored. "It's gone from the surreal to real," he said he was thinking.

The two men were still sitting in Myers' home when they got the news that a gunman had just killed six Sikh worshipers back in Ryan's home state of Wisconsin.

The campaign had been planning to announce Ryan's selection Friday in New Hampshire, but postponed it a day - until Romney was in Virginia - to give Ryan the chance to attend a memorial service for the victims back in Oak Creek, Wis.

While Ryan was in Wisconsin, the campaign was hastily arranging for Romney and Ryan to appear together for the first time in Norfolk, Va. No one outside their immediate circles knew whom Romney had chosen.

Back in Wisconsin, while Ryan attended the memorial service, Romney's campaign aides were orchestrating a secret escape from Janesville for Ryan's whole family. To elude the press, the campaign decided to send the entire clan to North Carolina.

His wife, Janna, and their three children were driven to an airport in Illinois. When Ryan returned home from the memorial service, he walked in the front door and right out the back door.

He scrambled through an expanse of woods he'd come to know well while growing up in Janesville. He passed the tree house in which he'd played as a child and emerged at the driveway of his nearby childhood home. An aide was waiting there in a van to whisk him away to join the 2012 GOP presidential ticket.

Ryan was reunited with his family at the Illinois airfield and flown by private jet to Elizabeth City, N.C., where they spent the night at a Fairfield Inn, eating takeout from an Applebee's restaurant and going over the speech he'd give the next day while the whole country watched.

By Saturday morning, as the Ryans began their drive to Norfolk, word of Romney's choice had begun to leak out. Reporters, who for weeks had been feverishly working ever lead to learn who Romney would pick, heard late Friday night that Romney was schedule to appear in front of a battleship named for Ryan's home state, the USS Wisconsin.

Ryan said Saturday that the energy of the crowds that greeted his rise to the ticket amazed and energized him.

"It's very exciting," he said. "We're going to win this campaign. We've got the wind behind us and I'm really excited about this race."

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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Susan Ferrechio

Chief Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner