BURLINGTON, Wis. — There was no shortage of enthusiasm for Rep. Paul Ryan at the 1st Congressional district GOP’s annual fundraiser Saturday: As the plaudits ratcheted upward, he was referred to as a rock star, the best Member of the House and the best Congressman in American history.
Other Republican candidates, including gubernatorial nominee Scott Walker and Senate nominee Ron Johnson, served as opening acts, but Ryan was the main attraction.
“We all know that this is one of those memorable and crucial times in our country, in our nation’s history,” Ryan said, with his daughter Liza at his side. “It doesn’t matter what generation you come from, the American idea itself is on the line, and we have to fight for it. And so what’s going on right now. The government is not just run by Democrats. The government is run by the left right now. They’ve taken Washington and they’ve taken Madison, and they just have a different belief. They have different ideas.”
This was the 10th annual fall fest held at Brightonwoods Orchard, owned by Bill and Judy Stone in rural Burlington. Reince Priebus, chairman of the state Republican Party, started the event when he was leading the district Republicans during Ryan’s first term. Ryan was first elected to the House in 1998.
On this Saturday, as gray skies threatened rain, a couple hundred faithful ate “pork stimulus sandwiches” and downed cans of Miller Lite and Diet Coke under a sprawling white tent while they listened.
Paul Apme, a carpenter from Unionville, said he first met Ryan when he first declared he was running for Congress and has supported him since. He said he likes Ryan’s fiscally conservative views.
“I don’t want my children and my grandchildren to be in such a hole with taxes that they can’t have the life they want,” said Apme, 63.
Ryan didn’t miss an opportunity to take a dig at his Democratic colleagues. Warning the audience about Democrats’ tactics in the general election, he used an unnamed Congressman from Georgia as an example.
“They’re going to throw everything they’ve got at us. I was talking to a buddy of mine in Congress on Wednesday, a Democrat,” he explained. “Yes, I do have friends who are Democrats. And he was confiding in me and just kind of worried about his own re-election. He’s a popular guy, he does well down in Georgia, and he’s saying, well, we just have to savage our opponents, and that’s exactly what our party’s telling us to do.”
Later in the speech, he said Democrats talk about creating rights while Republicans try to protect Americans’ ability to make their own choices. To make his point, the Congressman did an impression of Rep. Charlie Rangel, the New York Democrat and former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
“He says, Health care’s a right,'” Ryan declared in a deep, raspy voice. “It’s our job to give it to them.'”
Johnson, the Wisconsin GOP’s Senatorial nominee, had no problem making out his opponent, Sen. Russ Feingold, as another Democratic bad guy.
“You guys have to be worried about Russ Feingold now, because he’ll be so down he and his allies are going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at me,” he said. “He will do — he will say anything to cling to his power.”
Johnson emphasized his biography as a businessman and family man. He reminded the crowd that a Rasmussen poll taken a day after he won Tuesday’s primary showed him leading Feingold 51 percent to 44 percent.
After his speech, Ryan defended Republican candidates who have endorsed his controversial budget proposal. Democrats have accused those candidates of favoring privatizing Social Security, but Ryan insisted the plan leaves Social Security intact.
“The oldest political weapon in politics is to scare seniors,” he said.
Ryan, a co-founder of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s Young Guns program, said he doesn’t have plans to campaign for candidates outside driving distance of his home in southeastern Wisconsin this fall except for Republican Senate nominee Marco Rubio in Florida. Ryan is often mentioned as a potential Senate candidate in 2012 — and perhaps as someone who could end up on a national ticket.