TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Paul Ryan prepared for the biggest moment of his political career Wednesday, a speech that will introduce him to millions of Americans watching on television as he accepts the Republican vice presidential nomination.
Joined by his wife, Janna, and their three children, who played around at the podium, Ryan tested the microphones and teleprompter in a largely empty convention hall. The Wisconsin congressman asked where the delegations from his home state and neighboring Michigan would sit and said he'd point to them during his evening address.
Asked by reporters about his speech, Ryan said, "You'll hear tonight."
Ryan is expected to talk about his Irish immigrant ancestors and small-town values, offering a personal presentation of a lawmaker largely known for sober policy analysis. Before thousands of delegates at the Republican convention, he will also praise Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, and criticize President Barack Obama.
The speech will likely be heavy on personality and light on policy, the latest example of Ryan deferring to Romney's preferences. As Ryan puts it, Romney is "the boss." Not the other way around.
That message was underscored in Ryan's preparations. Wearing a blazer and open-collar shirt, he asked to be shown where Romney will be seated, conscious that he would speaking in front of the man he hopes will be his future employer.
Later, Ryan spoke briefly at the Wisconsin delegation's Beers and Brats event and joked about saving his voice for the big speech. Ryan said he and Romney would outline their plans in the coming weeks, starting with his address.
"We're going to give the country a very clear choice that they deserve," Ryan said.
Ryan and his team, a mix of longtime aides and new advisers, have spent a chunk of the past few weeks writing — and re-writing — the speech. Drafts have been emailed from his campaign plane and his kitchen table in Janesville, Wis., to speechwriters in Tampa and top Romney advisers at the Boston campaign headquarters.
Early versions were scrapped and adjusted to include bits of Ryan's natural, easygoing speaking style. In between campaign events and daily workouts, Ryan has been working to put his own voice into the drafts. He is an experienced speechwriter, having served in that capacity for 1996 vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp and former Education Secretary William Bennett.
But at campaign events, Ryan has tended to favor policy over his personal story. From Ohio to Virginia to Florida, he talks more often about the nation's debt and deficit than his own life as a congressional aide who became a congressman at age 28. The 42-year-old is more comfortable citing Congressional Budget Office statistics than real people.
Romney's aides want that to change. Advisers are pushing Ryan toward more personal territory.
The hope among Romney's team is that the nation gets to know Ryan's story, one they say working-class voters could relate to. Left unsaid is the fact that Ryan's policy positions, specifically his contentious budget proposals, have caused headaches for Romney and dominated the storyline of the campaign since he was introduced as the running mate.
Ryan planned to talk Wednesday not just about Romney's promises to repair the economy and what they contend are Obama's failures to do so, but also about his upbringing. A message of self-reliance is set for a prominent role in the speech.
Ryan previewed his message earlier this week at the Janesville, Wis., high school he attended two decades ago. He spoke of his ancestors' journey in the 1850s from Ireland to Wisconsin.
Aides sought to lower expectations and cautioned against expecting a blockbuster speech like the one delivered by 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. Instead, Ryan is likely to paint himself as a reasonable governing partner for Romney.