DES MOINES, Iowa — Impossibly young, incredibly fit, and exuding down-home charm, Paul Ryan took the crowd by storm at the Iowa State Fair on Monday.
More than 1,000 people waited for over an hour under a fitful sun for a glimpse of the new vice-presidential nominee — and most of them were enthusiastic about his chances.
Representative Ryan did not go quite to the level of his Sunday performance in his home state of Wisconsin, where he told supporters that his “veins run with cheese,” but he did milk the geography connection for all it was worth.
“We are united as upper Midwesterners,” he said. “But in the end, we are all Americans.”
Ryan delivered a standard anti-Obama stump speech with gusto.
“Mr. president,” he thundered, to loud applause, “where are the jobs?”
The crowd closest to the stage wore blue “Romney” T-shirts — courtesy of campaign workers who had distributed them earlier to anyone willing to wear one. They also waved Romney “Believe in America” signs, occasionally using them to bash the small group of hecklers in front.
“We Iowans and Wisconsinites like to be respectful of each other … to listen to each other,” said Ryan, unruffled by the shouting. “Those ladies” — gesturing toward the angry protesters — “must not be from Iowa.”
He had a point — most of those in the sizable throng were amiable and polite, and already in love with the new VP candidate.
More from GlobalPost: Paul Ryan's foreign policy experience attacked by critics
“I wish he were at the top of the ticket,” said Vicki Keagle, an Iowa resident. “He knows his stuff, he will energize Romney.”
Some were even more enthusiastic.
“It’s not even going to be close,” said Ron James, who sported a sweatshirt reading “I’m the God-fearing, gun-toting flag-waving conservative you were warned about.”
He identified himself as a Tea Party Republican from the center of the state, and is pretty bullish on the Republican ticket.
“Vegas has Romney winning in a romp,” he added.
Nevada bookmakers may be confident of a Romney-Ryan victory, but pollsters are more cautious. A Rasmussen poll released last week indicated that Romney had a slim lead in Iowa, 46 to 44 percent, but it is still too close to call.
This gives Iowa added prominence in this election: Not only is it reputed to be the kingmaker state, with its January caucuses, it is now an important battleground, and will be eagerly wooed by both parties.
Peggy Evans, who teaches high school, is pleased with Iowa’s quadrennial eminence.
“If you can’t shake the hand of a future president in Iowa, you can’t do it anywhere,” she laughed.
More Highway 2012: Romney-Ryan, who’s on top?
President Barack Obama was also in Iowa on Monday, at the start of a three-day bus tour of the state. He used the opportunity to bash the Ryan budget plan, and went so far as to suggest that Ryan was one of the House Republicans blocking aid for drought-stricken Iowa.
"Right now folks here in Iowa and across the heartland are suffering from one of the worst droughts in 50 years,” Obama said at a rally in Boone, Iowa Monday afternoon. "The best way to help these states is for leaders in Congress to pass a farm bill that not only helps farmers and ranchers respond to natural disasters, but also makes necessary reforms and gives them some long-term certainty."
The president told the crowd that if they "happen to see Congressman Ryan," they should tell him how important the farm bill is to Iowa and rural communities.
Obama was going to stay overnight in Des Moines, but had not planned a trip to the State Fair, something that Ryan seized on in his speech.
“My guess is the reason President Obama is not making it here from Council Bluffs,” said Ryan, “is because he only knows left turns!”
This delighted the crowd, especially James. “Obama is a socialist,” he insisted. “You know what socialists are? Government for moochers by looters who take from the producers.”
Iowa is a mixed state, with liberal pockets like Iowa City interspersed with more rural agricultural areas where the population is pretty conservative. The crowd at the State Fair seemed to be made up of socially conservative, fiscally prudent Midwesterners, who wanted no more of Obama’s painful economics. They were more than willing to believe that Romney and his young partner had the answers.
Obama won the state handily in 2008, beating John McCain 54 percent to 44 percent, but he may have a harder race this time around.
One man who identified himself only as “Scott,” said that Obama had been a big disappointment.
“I was hopeful in 2008,” he said. “I wished him well. But what he said and what he has done are very different things.”
Scott said he was supporting Romney because he was afraid for his children’s future.
His son, 16-year-old Mitchell, agreed: “This election is about two very different standpoints,” said the articulate teenager. “We cannot continue in this direction. We must cut spending.”
Mitchell just wishes he were old enough to vote.
More from GlobalPost: 'Biggest brown noser,' and 5 other facts about Paul Ryan
Cole Converse, 21, is old enough, and will cast his vote for Romney-Ryan.
“I am very much opposed to Obamacare,” said the college senior from Iowa State. “I am hoping to be a dentist some day. If you add 30 million people to the insurance rolls, and do not increase the number of doctors, it does not take a genius to figure out that we will all be standing in lines, or we will have to ration medical care.”
Pat Minnick, from a small town near Des Moines, said she had not voted since 1980, but would do so this time.
“I think Romney is the only hope,” she said. “Otherwise this country is going right down the toilet. Obama gives everything away. That is not America.”
Ryan played to this crowd, sprinkling his speech with calls to “take back America” and “get the country back on the path to prosperity.” The crowd loved it.
After his speech, Ryan was escorted around the fairgrounds by Iowa Governor Terry Bransted.
There was much to see — Iowans take their yearly extravaganza very seriously. In addition to livestock exhibitions and tractor displays, chainsaw carvings and hand-made quilts, there was food. Lots of it.
It is not known whether Ryan the fitness freak indulged in some of the fair’s more renowned treats: deep-fried Twinkies, deep-fried potatoes, or, the piece de resistance, deep-fried double bacon corn dogs, liberally doused with maple syrup.
But he almost certainly took a peek at the famous cow made entirely of butter, side by side with an oleo Snow White and Seven Dwarves.
He may also have visited another pavilion, where onlookers gaped at a giant cocoa moose. According to the sign, it is “the largest chocolate moose in captivity.”
Ryan was soon on his way to other venues — less risky to his cholesterol level, one has to hope. But the charismatic Wisconsinite-cum-policy-wonk will doubtless be dispensing his deceptively folksy wisdom in many other states over the next three months.
Less than three months until Election Day!