STERLING, Virginia — He looked like your average American in jeans and sunglasses, a baseball cap pulled low over his brow. But Paul Ryan was on a mission to ensure almost nobody but him and Mitt Romney knew about his date with destiny.
Disguises. Absolute secrecy. Dummy destinations and a dash through Wisconsin woods. Ryan’s journey from unlikely vice presidential pick to White House hopeful Romney’s bona fide running mate unfolded this past week with the pace and tension of a John LeCarre thriller.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, tasked his adviser and confidante Beth Myers with handling the vice presidential search shortly after he clinched the Republican nomination in April.
Known for her loyalty and secrecy, she immediately put a clamp on virtually all information about the process. Until now.
Myers briefed reporters Saturday in an empty hangar in Dulles International Airport near Washington, after the first day of campaigning for the Romney/Ryan duo, for a “tic-toc” of events leading to the moment Ryan took the stage earlier that day as the vice presidential nominee.
“I had one directive: the candidate must be qualified to take office on Day 1,” she said, adding that while there was internal discussion about the candidates among a coterie of Romney advisors, “this was Mitt’s decision.”
But it was left to her to drill into the details. Near the start of the process she consulted a maestro of the running mate search, former vice president Dick Cheney.
By May 1, Myers and Romney had created a shortlist from what she called “a very deep bench. There were never too few candidates,” and none who were asked to be considered said no.
Myers and a team of lawyers squirreled themselves in a secure room in Romney headquarters in Boston for weeks on end for the vetting process, reviewing the most sought after political dossiers in the United States, locking them each night in a safe.
She met with Romney in June to present preliminary reports, then on August 1, she and Romney “met for a final gut check” on the potential candidates, believed to include Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.
“He told me his decision,” she said: Ryan was his man.
That put in motion a clandestine operation to bring Ryan to meet Romney — without the news world, or anybody else, catching a whiff of what was happening.
Ryan was told to make his way to Chicago’s airport on August 5, and Myers suggested he dress down.
“He wore jeans, a baseball cap and sunglasses,” and went “undetected” through Chicago and low-profile Hartford, Connecticut, where he was met by Myers’s son Curt. The 19-year-old drove Ryan to the Myers home in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Romney, too, came to Brookline, and the pair met privately for an hour in the Myers dining room. When Ryan emerged, he knew he was the nominee.
“This is where it gets complicated,” Myers said.
They had planned for a Friday announcement, but because of a deadly attack on a Sikh temple in Ryan’s congressional district, the roll out was pushed to Saturday, Day 1 of Romney’s bus tour through swing states.
Ryan had returned home from Brookline unnoticed, but with speculation building about a possible VP announcement, the press were closely monitoring his movements in Wisconsin.
Ryan attended the Sikh memorial service, then returned home. Reporters in his hometown of Janesville saw him enter his house, but they never saw him leave.
He slipped out the back door and into the woods — and then onto the driveway of his old home.
“I grew up in those woods,” Ryan said. “The house I grew up in backs up to the house I live in now, so i know those woods like the back of my hand.”
An aide was waiting with a car, and they sped to a quiet regional airport bound for a place called Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
Ryan was whisked to a hotel where he met with several Romney aides including Myers, and his family was waiting.
The team ordered food from Applebee’s, and went over his opening speech set for the next morning in Norfolk, Virginia.
Could it be that in the age of blogging, Twitter and TMZ, the Romney-Ryan ticket was kept a secret? Indeed the buzz around the two had built up, but until late Friday night, the world was essentially unaware.