DULLES, Va. – Representative Paul Ryan was casually dressed last weekend, wearing sunglasses and a ballcap, walking unnoticed through Bradley International Airport in Hartford.
Waiting for him was a 19-year-old in a rented SUV.
Ryan was about to receive the news that he would be Mitt Romney’s choice as running mate, but the delivery of that news—and much of Ryan’s movements and conversations in the days that followed—had to be carried out with the calibrated precision and secrecy of a sting operation.
“We wanted to try to do this very quietly,” Beth Myers, Romney’s longtime adviser who was leading the vice presidential search, told reporters in an empty airplane hanger here on Saturday before Romney’s plane left for Charlotte, N.C. “We looked at maps and put it together.”
It was Myers’s son, Curt, who picked Ryan up from the airport, chosen because Logan International Airport could be too risky. The two drove alone for 110 miles, until they arrived at the Myers home in Brookline. They pulled into the garage, where Ryan got out and shared lunch with the Myers family.
A short time later, Romney arrived, driving with a Secret Service escort and only exiting the car once he had entered Myers’ garage
For about an hour, Romney sat alone with Ryan in the dining room. Sometime during that period, Romney asked Ryan to be his running mate.
“We talked about the campaign and how it would be run, and talked about how we would work together if we get the White House,” Romney told reporters aboard his campaign plane to Charlotte. “What the relationship would be, how we’d interact and be involved in important decisions. We talked about our families and what this meant for them, the challenge it meant for them.”
Ryan said he wasn’t surprised by the offer at that point.
“By the time we met in person, I kind of knew it was going to happen,” Ryan said. “I was very humbled. It was the biggest honor I’ve ever been given in my life.”
It was the same day – last Sunday—when a gunman entered a Sikh temple in Ryan’s district at home in Wisconsin. Ryan worked with his staff, apparently unaware of his discreet mission to Massachusetts, to craft a response from Myers’ home.
For the next several days, Ryan and the Romney campaign kept quiet nearly every detail about the vice presidential selection, and when and how it would be announced.
It capped a laborious four-month process that Myers spearheaded in finding a proper running mate for Romney.
Myers first met with Romney about the vice presidential selection in April, putting together a background briefing on a large group of possible candidates. She solicited advice from people who had vetted vice presidential candidates before, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of State James Baker.
By May 1, they had created a shortlist and Romney called each candidate to make sure they wanted to be considered. A group of attorneys was assembled, questionnaires were drafted, and public and policy information was collected. They worked in a secure room at the campaign headquarters in Boston, with all materials locked and kept in a safe and no copies made.
Myers would only say that “several years” of tax returns were requested, a politically sensitive question because Romney has only agreed to release two years of his own returns for voters to evaluate even though he released 23 years when he was being vetted for vice president in 2008.
Over the course of several weeks, Romney periodically spoke with several top advisers about the selection process. The circle was kept tight, with discussions occurring only with about 10 advisers, most of whom have been in Romney’s inner circle for the past decade.
On July 2, Myers said, she met with Romney at his home in Wolfeboro, N.H., providing him with completed folders on each of his potential running mates.
“I did not share my thoughts on who I thought it should be,” she said, following advice from Bob Teeter, who had headed the process in 1988.
Just after returning from a trip overseas, one where he had several missteps that dominated headlines, Romney met with his core group of advisers in Wolfeboro for what Myers called “a final gut check.” After that meeting, Romney told Myers Ryan was his pick, and they placed a call from Myers office.
Romney told Ryan he wanted to meet in person, but little more, and the stealth trip was arranged for Aug. 5. After Ryan accepted, Romney’s campaign began trying to determine when and how to make the announcement.
Romney called former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty on Monday to inform him that he was not the pick. It would be four days before he would deliver the bad news to the other candidates who had been considered but passed over.
The campaign originally planned a Friday announcement, with the hopes of making it somewhere in New Hampshire. When a memorial service for the victims of the Sikh temple was scheduled for the same day, those plans were scrapped.
Instead, they laid the groundwork for the Saturday morning announcement. Because several network producers were outside Ryan’s home on Friday, the campaign attempted to throw them off.
After returning from the memorial service, Ryan walked into his home. He then immediately walked through his house, out the backyard, and through the woods behind his house – which he knew well because his childhood home is behind the house he lives in now.
“I know those woods like the back of my hand,” Ryan said. “So I just went out my back door, went through the gully in the woods I grew up playing in – I walked up to the tree that has the old tree fort I built.”
Ryan’s chief of staff, Andy Speth, picked him up on the other side and drove him to an airport in Waukegan, Ill. The chartered flight flew to Elizabeth City, N.C., a deliberate choice that was out of the way enough to throw trackers off but close enough to Norfolk, Va., where the announcement would take place on Saturday morning.
Ryan and his family met with Myers and her family at the Fairfield Inn in Elizabeth City. They ate takeout from a nearby Applebee’s and did some preparations for Ryan’s speech the next morning.
By the time they woke up, the news had broken.