CHARLOTTE--Just hours before word broke that Mitt Romney would name his vice-presidential running mate on Saturday, Paul Ryan waved to reporters camped outside his home in Janesville, Wis., as he headed inside for the evening—or so the media thought.
Just minutes later, the Wisconsin congressman quickly snuck out his back door, escaping into a forest behind his house where he had played as a child in hopes of eluding reporters who had trailed his every movement for days. "I grew up in those woods," Ryan recalled on Saturday. "The house I grew up in backs up to the house I live in now so I know those woods like the back of my hand."
Paul briskly walked through a gully, past the tree where he had built a tree fort as a child, and toward the driveway of his childhood home. There, waiting in a car, was Andy Speth, Ryan's chief of staff and his closest adviser. Within seconds, Ryan had jumped in the car and the two sped away, heading towards a tiny airport just over the Illinois border from Wisconsin, where his wife and three young kids were already waiting.
Soon, the family was boarding a private jet headed toward Elizabeth City, N.C., a town just an hour from Norfolk, Va., where Ryan would be formally unveiled as Romney's VP pick on Saturday morning. It was among the last steps in Romney's highly coordinated but intensely secretive search for a running mate. It was a quest that left even some of Romney's closest friends and aides in dark up until the final hours before Ryan's name was announced.
The search began in May, just after Romney unofficially clinched the Republican nomination. Beth Myers, the longtime Romney aide who led the GOP candidate's search, told reporters Saturday she and the former Massachusetts governor came up with a short list of potential candidates early in the search—though she declined to say exactly who. Romney then phoned each of the candidates to see if they would be willing to go through the vetting—a process all of those asked agreed to, according to Myers.
At Romney's direction, Myers moved quickly to get the vetting operation in place, as the candidate strongly considered going against tradition and announcing a VP pick early in the summer. She hired a team of lawyers and reserved secure office space in Boston, featuring a room with a safe where the campaign kept its dossiers of financial and other personal information provided by its VP hopefuls. According to Meyers, no copies were made of the material and the paperwork was not allowed to leave the room—not even when Romney read the material.
While Romney ultimately decided to delay his pick until after his trip to the Olympics, Myers continued full speed ahead on the VP search. She met with the potential VPs, including at a donor retreat in Park City sponsored by the campaign in late June, seeking "clarification" on issues raised by their dossiers.
At the same time, Romney sought input from his senior staff and close friends about their thoughts on the VP process. Along the way, he campaigned with many of those on his short list, including Ryan.