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Ryan's clandestine journey to Romney's ticket went from 'surreal to real'

By Rachel Streitfeld, CNN Political Producer
updated 5:17 AM EDT, Mon August 13, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ryan took secret trip to meet with Romney before he was picked
  • Longtime aide Beth Myers worked with Romney to prevent leaks to media
  • All the candidates' records were kept in a safe in campaign HQ
  • Memorial for victims of Sikh temple shooting delayed rollout by a day

Charlotte, North Carolina (CNN) -- Paul Ryan's journey from congressman to vice-presidential candidate was cloaked in secrecy worthy of a big-screen thriller.

In the culminating scene, Ryan -- policy wonk, statistics nerd, father of three -- crept through the woods behind his Wisconsin home for a clandestine pickup by a top aide Friday afternoon.

For Ryan, who days earlier had agreed to become the running mate of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, it was only the latest episode in an elaborate campaign undertaking designed to escape detection before the candidate's formal announcement in Norfolk, Virginia, on Saturday.

Bold VP pick could woo key voters

Longtime Romney aide Beth Myers ran the former Massachussetts governor's four-month vice-presidential search and played a key role in the cloak-and-dagger aspect of those final days. She briefed reporters on the entire process Saturday afternoon.

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Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin speaks during a campagin stop at the Iowa State Fair on Monday, August 13, in Des Moines. It was the newly minted GOP vice presidential candidate's first solo stop since becoming Mitt Romney's running mate. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin speaks during a campagin stop at the Iowa State Fair on Monday, August 13, in Des Moines. It was the newly minted GOP vice presidential candidate's first solo stop since becoming Mitt Romney's running mate.
Paul Ryan, rising GOP star
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Paul Ryan, rising GOP star Paul Ryan, rising GOP star

The search began in early April with a large group of potential picks. Throughout the process, Myers and Romney were compulsively careful to prevent any information from leaking to the press.

As the months progressed and the research documents on each possible name grew -- including "several years" of tax returns that each potential candidate submitted, Myers said -- all the paperwork was stored overnight in a safe in a secure room at the campaign headquarters in Boston. No copies were made of the material, and all work on the vice-presidential effort was done in that room.

Four months later, after consulting with "a lot" of other people and a final "gut check" with his top advisers, Romney decided Paul Ryan was his choice, Myers said. That day, August 1, the presumptive GOP nominee placed a call to Ryan from Myers' office in the campaign headquarters requesting a meeting.

The next day, Romney called a man many considered to be at the top of his vice-presidential list, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, to inform his former rival he had not been chosen. Romney called the others on his short list the day before his announcement.

On Sunday, August 5, the campaign initiated an array of evasive maneuvers.

"We gave a lot of thought on how to make this work undetected," Myers told reporters in a briefing at Dulles Airport in Washington on Saturday.

Romney's choice of Ryan changes the race

A major figure in the effort: Myers' 19-year-old son Curt, who was designated to chauffeur Ryan to and from the airport for his meeting with Romney.

Ryan caught a flight from Chicago to Hartford, Connecticut, on Sunday. The campaign asked him to dress casually, Myers said.

"Paul was wearing jeans, a casual shirt, baseball hat and sunglasses and passed unnoticed through both airports," she said.

Curt Myers drove Ryan to his family's home in Brookline, Massachusetts. Romney came down from his New Hampshire summer home, and the two men met for about an hour in the Myerses' dining room.

How Ryan could help Romney

"It was a little longer than an hour, actually," Romney said. "Oh, we talked about the campaign and how it would be run and talked about how we'd work together if we get the White House -- what the relations would be, how we'd interact and be involved in important decisions. But we talked about our families -- what this meant for them, what kind of challenge it meant -- those are the topics we discussed."

When the two left the dining room, "it was all set," Myers said.

Then, after Romney had left, Ryan received word of the deadly rampage at a Sikh temple in his Wisconsin district. He spoke with his aides about the crisis while at Myers' home, and returned home to Wisconsin unnoticed.

Later in the week, a memorial service for the victims of the shooting prompted the campaign to change its planned announcement. Myers said the vice-presidential event was originally slated for Friday in New Hampshire, but that date conflicted with the service.

So the campaign settled on Norfolk, the first city Romney would visit on his upcoming bus tour.

Paul Ryan through the years

Which brings the saga back to the wooded area behind Ryan's home. After he returned from the memorial service on Friday, Ryan walked in his front door, through the house and out the back, through the woods, and ended up at the driveway of the house where, coincidentally, he had grown up.

"It wasn't that far of a walk," Ryan laughed in a conversation with reporters on a campaign charter from Washington to North Carolina on Saturday. "I just went out my back door, went through the gully in the woods I grew up playing in. I walked past the fort I built back there."

The Ryan aide who had dropped him off in front of his home then picked Ryan up at the driveway of the other home and drove an hour to a small plane chartered by the campaign at the airport in Waukegan, Illinois, where Ryan met his family.

They flew to another tiny airport, in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, where Curt Myers was again waiting to play a role in the drama. He drove the family to the Fairfield Inn in Elizabeth City, where Beth Myers and several other Romney advisers huddled with Ryan.

Curt Myers picked up food from Applebee's for the group, and Beth Myers said: "Everyone was pretty tired so we did a little speech prep and went to bed."

The next morning a member of the Secret Service met the two-vehicle caravan, and Ryan was driven to the Romney announcement event in Norfolk.

At the end of that day, Ryan was still reeling to take in the life-changing experience.

"It's gone from the surreal to the real, I guess," he said

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