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Ryan Won't Get All The Votes In Janesville, Wis.


People have been thinking quite a bit about politics in Janesville, Wisconsin, home of the freshly nominated Republican vice presidential candidate. Paul Ryan still lives in Janesville. His hometown is near the Illinois border. Its politics lean Democratic, although Ryan's own congressional district votes Republican. NPR's Don Gonyea talked to some of those who know - and knew - Ryan well.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Near the main entrance of Janesville's Craig High School, there's a wall full of bronze plaques, each featuring a graduate of the school who's gone on to do big things. School secretary Tricia Jones points to Paul Ryan's likeness.

TRICIA JONES: We started the wall in 2006, and he was honored that very first year.

GONYEA: So Paul Ryan, graduating class 1988, inducted May 12, 2006, to the honor wall.

And just for a little perspective, not far from Ryan on the honor wall is the plaque honoring former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, a liberal Democrat. Both men are from this town; both, Craig High School grads. Sam Loizzo is a now-retired high school government teacher who had Paul Ryan in his class a quarter-century ago.

SAM LOIZZO: He definitely achieved. And you could see that he had a sincere interest in government, and what was going on.

GONYEA: Ryan attended Catholic elementary school before going to the public high school. Loizzo says as a teacher, he brought every hot issue of the day into his government class.

LOIZZO: We talked about abortion. We talked about busing, back in that era. And we talked about First Amendment freedoms as well as guns and gun control and, you know - or the lack thereof. So - you can see when lights go on, on certain kids, you know, on certain topics.

GONYEA: He remembers Ryan as conservative, but not necessarily the most conservative kid in the class. Over the years, the two men have remained very close. But...

LOIZZO: I'm very happy for him. You know, I wish him the best of luck. But, you know, I'm not going to vote for him.

GONYEA: That's because Loizzo is a pro-union Democrat who doesn't agree with Ryan's economic prescriptions. A Janesville resident who is going to pull the Romney-Ryan lever this November is business owner Tony Huml, who's known Ryan since...

TONY HUML: Sister Yvonne, grade one at St. Mary's Catholic School here in Janesville. She was a tough cookie.


GONYEA: They were classmates all the way through high school. He says of Ryan...

HUML: Certainly inquisitive, studious; yet he was a character - just great, great sense of humor.

GONYEA: Huml runs an online local news service in Janesville. In fact, after Ryan was named to the GOP ticket, Huml re-posted a piece he'd done with his friend about a year earlier. It was a spoof of MSNBC's "Hardball" program. Huml called his piece "Softball." The questions were friendly. Still, some of the answers were revealing - such as when Huml asked who Ryan thinks is the funniest person in America.


PAUL RYAN: This might sound funny to - coming from me, but I'd say Jon Stewart, probably.

HUML: Funny guy?

RYAN: He's pretty good. Yeah...

HUML: Does he ever talk about you?

RYAN: He does. And actually, it's sort of funny...

GONYEA: But the adoration for Ryan that many in Janesville voice, eludes some longtime residents.

MARY FREDERICK: Paul is a very nice man. He's a family man. Very much supportive in the community. But we don't share the same vision. You know, that's where it stops, is the vision.

GONYEA: That's Mary Frederick, who worked at the General Motors plant in Janesville that closed in 2008, after nearly 90 years. She calls Ryan a fiscal hawk focused on one thing.

FREDERICK: He sees numbers. He sees numbers. And he sees numbers. And there's the people factor that you can't put a number to. And I think that's the part that he missed.

GONYEA: In his career in Congress, Ryan has cast votes that would seem a contradiction, given his budget-cutting image - including, in 2008, for bailouts for banks and for the auto industry. And he has not been shy about pursuing earmarks. Scott Angus is the editor of the Janesville newspaper, The Gazette.

SCOTT ANGUS: Are there contradictions here? And there appear to be. Paul would justify them - that they were the right vote, at the right time, for my district overall.

GONYEA: But for many Janesville residents, to understand Paul Ryan, you need to know the philosophy and the person. Here's his old school friend Tony Huml.

HUML: He'll always be Paul. I'm confident of that.

GONYEA: Though Huml does acknowledge that even if Ryan doesn't change, his life already has. Don Gonyea, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.

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