Three U.S. senators — Joe Biden in 2008, Joe Lieberman in 2000, and Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1960 — share something in common with Congressman Paul Ryan this year: while running as their party’s vice presidential candidate, they also waged reelection campaigns to keep their current office.
Congressman Paul Ryan’s dual campaign contrasts with what occurred the last time a House member was tapped to be a VP candidate. In 1984, New York Democrat Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro voluntarily relinquished her seat after becoming the first woman tapped to run on a national ticket.
Because of the precedent set by office-holding VP candidates (in 1960, then-Senator Lyndon Johnson even managed to change a Texas law so he could run for reelection while on the national ballot), the House campaign of Paul Ryan, whose name will appear twice on Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District ballot, hardly causes a ripple.
Unless, of course, you are the political strategist tasked with getting Ryan to victory in his House race — a safe congressional reelection campaign that suddenly received the national spotlight. Meet Paul Wilson, Congressman Paul Ryan’s longtime political strategist (and a close friend — I awoke on August 12 to a 2:00 a.m. email from Wilson exclaiming: “It’s Ryan!!!! We have been filming with him! He knew but we didn’t”).
Paul Wilson owns Wilson Grand Communications, a political consulting firm in Alexandria, Virginia. Congressman Paul Ryan has been a Wilson Grand client since 1998, when Ryan, then 28, was first elected to represent his home district in southeastern Wisconsin.
So now Paul Wilson finds himself in a unique set of circumstances. This is a race that his client must win for the seventh time — but a seat that Wilson hopes Ryan will never again occupy.
Q. Were you surprised that Romney picked Ryan as his VP?
A. Hmmm. Yes, surprised. I saw the two together on TV in Wisconsin serving food and I thought they had a very natural chemistry between them. When August came, we were filming Ryan in the days right before the announcement, and they had used the ruse “my daughter is having an operation on her adenoids on Sunday — we can’t film.”
In reality, he secretly wanted one last Sunday with his family before all hell broke loose. I was suspicious, however, when on the next day, Monday, his daughter couldn’t remember the operation from the day before. “What?” I mockingly screamed at her. “You had an operation yesterday and you don’t remember?” She sheepishly said, “Oh yeah, I forgot.”
Q. How did you react to the news that Ryan was chosen?
A. I started texting friends, like you, all through the night. I worked right across all time zones and ended with Republican Party Chairman Dave Sablan in Guam — where America’s next day begins. So when you think about it, I texted so much I texted into the future.
Q. Do you view Ryan’s congressional race as an “insurance policy” since Intrade is now waging that President Obama has a 66% chance of winning reelection?
A. I have the same goal I have had for the last 16 years — get Paul Ryan re-elected to Congress. Same fine candidate. Same goal. In the process, I am hoping our modest efforts help the bigger effort.
Q. What is it like to be a political strategist and to have a long-time congressional client run for reelection while he is also running for VP?
A. It is a cross between being picked in the second grade to lead the class to lunch and being as happy as Robert De Niro in Goodfellas when Joe Pesci is told he is a “made man.”
Q. Has Paul Ryan’s congressional campaign message changed since he was chosen as Romney’s VP?
A. Yes, it has. The new message is: “Vote Twice for Ryan.”
Q. Has Paul Ryan changed at all since you were involved with his first congressional campaign in 1998?
A. He’s either gotten a lot smarter, or I have gotten a lot dumber. He knows the budget at a level that is astounding.
Q. Have you had much contact with Ryan since he was tapped as VP?
A. At the Republican National Convention in Tampa we had a very nice 15 minutes in his hotel suite that got extended to 20 minutes. He reviewed his congressional spots and got to talk with his congressional and campaign staff. I remember him saying: “It’s just surreal. You get off the plane and into the car to speed downtown — and the highway has been closed for you.”
Q. Has Ryan’s congressional campaign media budget increased or decreased as a result of his being on the national ticket?
A. Increased a little. We added trumpeters to ride on a flat-bed truck throughout the district prior to the vice presidential debate. Actually, we cancelled the trumpeters and bought an extra week or two of Madison, Wisconsin, television.
Q. Is this situation good for business at Wilson Grand? I notice a TV ad for Ryan is prominently featured on Wilson Grand’s home page.
A. We make commercials that are different. They typically feature the candidate (that’s a real inside joke in political advertising now, because most spots do not). Ours for Paul Ryan always have. Paul Ryan liked that style, and Frank Luntz and Lowell Baker of the Luntz Group and Gene Ulm of Public Opinion Strategies and Andy Speth, Ryan’s longtime keeper of the flame, really wanted that style on display. They wanted Paul Ryan talking to people about the most important issues of the day. That’s what we gave them. Barely a super to be found and only a tiny tiny drop of music on some of them. You’ve heard of the “full Nelson” wrestling hold — well these TV spots are a “full Ryan.”
I would like to thank Paul Wilson for taking the time for this interview. As you can detect from this interview, Paul Wilson is an engaging fellow with a flair for the comedic – apparently a family trait: his daughter Casey Wilson stars in ABC’s Happy Endings and was also a cast member on Saturday Night Live during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Despite being Paul Wilson’s daughter, she is openly a Democrat and was seen on the campaign trail alongside Hillary Clinton in 2008. Of course, Paul is still her biggest fan.