The rush to define Paul Ryan is on.
After Mitt Romney introduced the Wisconsin congressman as his vice presidential running mate Aug. 11, influential Republicans across the country praised the conservative House budget chairman in stream of prepared statements forwarded by the Romney campaign.
Ryan’s selection similarly energized President Barack Obama and his supporters. Among the deluge of spin was a quote from Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.
"Paul Ryan got his start in politics, as a young staffer just out of college, working for then-Congressman John Kasich’s Budget Committee," Redfern said via email.
Today Kasich is Ohio’s Republican governor and a lightning rod for Democrats and others who strenuously objected to the collective-bargaining restrictions he signed into law last year. Voters overturned the measure, known as Senate Bill 5, on a November ballot referendum.
Kasich’s job approval rating, once stuck in the 30s and low 40s, has climbed recently but remains below 50 percent, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. No surprise, then, that Democrats working to carry Ohio for Obama have sought to tie him to Ryan.
But is the tie as strong as Redfern implied? PolitiFact Ohio was curious.
Ryan graduated in 1992 from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. It was there, according to several recent profiles, including an excellent one by the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, that he met William Hart, an economics professor who recommended him for an internship with U.S. Sen. Bob Kasten, a Wisconsin Republican. Ryan stuck around until Kasten lost his re-election in 1992.
This was Ryan’s first job in politics -- or how he got his start, so to speak. After Kasten’s loss, Ryan found work with Jack Kemp, the former congressman, conservative icon and Republican nominee for vice president in 1996. Ryan has described the late Kemp as a mentor, though Redfern in his Aug. 11 statement said Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee that Kasich once led, has "followed in the footsteps of his mentor," meaning Kasich.
Kasich did not become chairman of the panel until 1995, after Republicans led by Newt Gingrich and his Contract with America took control of the House. That was the year Ryan went to work for then-U.S. Rep. Sam Brownback of Kansas. Brownback had a seat on Kasich’s committee, and Ryan served as Brownback’s staff representative, said Rob Nichols, Kasich’s spokesman.
Ryan drew a paycheck from the committee, Nichols said. But he reported to Brownback.
Here’s how Washingtonian magazine, which listed him among its "Young Guns" in November 1996, described the early Capitol Hill days of Ryan, then a rising congressional staffer:
"Congress is not foreign territory to Ryan — he worked in the upper chamber briefly for Wisconsin Senator Bob Kasten until Kasten lost his reelection bid -- but the Wisconsin native says he is happier with the pace of the House. Like many other influential policy aides, Ryan spent his time after Kasten’s defeat in exile at a couple of conservative think tanks -- first at the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, then as a policy analyst for Jack Kemp at Empower America. He has continued to focus on financial concerns for Brownback, a member of the Budget Committee."
We checked in with the Romney-Ryan team to verify the widely reported accounts of Ryan’s biography. Campaign aide Darrel Ng confirmed that Ryan’s first job in politics was with Kasten. Ryan did not work with Kasich until going to work for Brownback in 1995.
PolitiFact Ohio informed the Ohio Democratic Party that the link between Ryan and Kasich was not as strong as Redfern made it seem. Jerid Kurtz, the party’s communications director, responded via email that "just out of college would cover three years after receiving a diploma."
Kurtz added: "The point is, this was one of the first professional political jobs Paul Ryan had following college. Additionally, many staffers on the Budget Committee are placed on the committee at the discretion of a member on the committee -- but the chairman is in charge of the payroll and has authority over the committee and its staff."
For PolitiFact, words matter. Redfern never said that working for Kasich’s Budget Committee was "one of the first professional jobs Paul Ryan had." Redfern was far more direct, saying that Ryan "got his start in politics" by working for Kasich "just out of college."
The underlying point Redfern makes -- that Kasich and Ryan have close ties -- is fair.
Kasich has spoken warmly of Ryan. In a Facebook posting last year, Kasich noted Ryan’s work for him on the Budget Committee, adding, "I always knew he was special."
And Kasich’s campaign issued its own statement shortly after Romney announced Ryan as his running mate. In the email, Kasich boasts of his "great relationship" with Ryan and applauded his "understanding of how the Washington budget mess is holding back job creation."
No doubt Ryan’s work on the Budget Committee helped shape and inform his views on his path to congressman, to committee chairman to Republican vice presidential running mate.
Ryan said as much Wednesday when campaigning at his alma mater, Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Kasich was on hand to help introduce the vice presidential hopeful, and after taking the microphone Ryan referred to himself as Kasich’s "protege on the Budget Committee."
Jackie Borchardt, a reporter for the Dayton Daily News who was at the event, tweeted the comment, as did Carl Weiser, the government and public affairs editor for the Cincinnati Enquirer. Weiser, who watched the speech from his desk via live feed, was kind enough to take another look at his newspaper’s raw video and confirm Ryan’s quote to PolitiFact Ohio.
But John Kasich does not deserve credit for giving Ryan his start. Bob Kasten does.
Redfern’s statement walks the line between imprecise language and careless exaggeration. The state Democratic Party leader is correct in suggesting that Kasich helped further Ryan’s career, but he paints a misleading picture by calling the Budget Committee job Ryan’s first after college.
On the Truth-O-Meter there’s a rating for statements that are partially accurate but leave out important details. That rating: Half True.
The rush to define Paul Ryan is on.