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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

In Ryan\'s Hometown, the Calm That Follows Defeat

JANESVILLE, Wis. - The motorcades and Secret Service agents are gone now, and the overcast sky here on Wednesday seemed to channel the town's collective gray mood. Its native son, Representative Paul D. Ryan, had fallen short of the prize.

The blinds were drawn at the Mitt Romney “victory center” here, where volunteers cleaned up soda cans, leftover lawn signs and a life-size cardboard cut-out of the would-be vice-president. Main Street, bustling just 24 hours ago with television trucks and campaign vans when Mr. Ryan blew into town to vote, was nearly silent.

With Election Day come and gone, Joni Bozart, who owns a consignment shop here, said she would miss the excitement. “You didn't know what was going on day to day here,” she said. “It's certainly nothing I could be tired of.”

At that, a worker from Mr. Ryan's campaign office walked in to drop off a box of leftover tea bags. The office would no longer be needing them, he explained: “We g ot to be out of there by Thursday.”

For fans, there was a consolation prize: Mr. Ryan easily won re-election to the House of Representatives, where he will continue to serve this blue-collar city of 60,000. Amid all the pomp of a vice-presidential run, it may have been easy to forget that Mr. Ryan was still pursuing a lower office: a handwritten sign in his campaign office reminded voters, “Yes, Paul is running for Congress.”

But even after Republicans' defeat on Tuesday, residents here said their representative would remain the same hardline fiscal conservative he has always been. Val Yachik, 68, an artist, even urged Mr. Ryan to double down.

“The Republicans are going to have to strengthen their backbone on the fiscal side, because Obama might take it too far to the left in terms of an entitlement society,” said Mr. Yachik, who described Mr. Ryan as “a Jack Kemp conservative.”

“He'll be back sticking needles into Obama, like he should be doing,” Mr. Yachik added, approvingly.

Kitty Cole, an athletic trainer who has lived in Janesville for a decade, said she was struck by the Romney-Ryan ticket's failure to win support from independents and minority groups. “Whether Ryan changes his view on some social issues that really impacted the Republicans in this election, I don't know,” she said, across the street from Mr. Ryan's campaign office.

“But I think from a fiscal, conservative standpoint, his message will remain consistent,” Ms. Cole added. “It hasn't really changed since he's been a congressman all these years.”

Despite this year's distinct anticlimax, neighbors and friends of Mr. Ryan predicted this would not be the final time the nation's attention turned to this southeastern corner of Wisconsin.

Word around town, Ms. Bozart said, is that Mr. Ryan “would be on the top of the ticket next time around.”

She gave a conspi ratorial smile: “This was a practice run.”