KENOSHA, Wis. — After three full days of debate prep in Virginia, Paul Ryan had a packed day, but his debate against Joe Biden and the intense preparations from this week were not what he wanted to talk about.
Instead, he wanted to talk pumpkins.
At the Apple Holler pumpkin patch in Sturtevant, the GOP vice presidential nominee, his wife Janna, and their three children came to pick pumpkins, but the reporters trailing him wanted to know about his face off against Joe Biden Thursday.
One reporter asked if he was “excited” about the impending debate.
“I’m excited about picking pumpkins,” Ryan said.
Another asked how he was feeling about it, the debate that is, but he didn’t answer instead joking, “What debate?” and “Oh yeah! I’d better get ready for that.”
Another reporter tried as well, asking how his prep was going.
Dressed in a red and gray jacket, Ryan turned around to face the cameras and laughed, “You know I’d better get started. You just reminded me. No, it’s going well.”
And then he was off to the pumpkin patch, with a mass of reporters, cameras, and secret service agents in toe, trailing the Ryans as they engaged in the family ritual of picking out pumpkins.
Ryan dragged his youngest children Sam and Charlie in a red wagon to the pumpkin patch where they picked out four of the largest in their area of the patch. Charlie, 9, was the most serious of the group, not wanting to make a hasty decision when it came to his pumpkin.
“I’m just going to check and see if there are any better ones,” he told his parents.
Ryan said they carve the pumpkins — which weighed 49, 37, 35, and 34 pounds — free-hand with a marker and a kitchen knife, but Janna Ryan said the activity of carving such large pumpkins is “all Paul,” noting with a smile that he is both “ambitious” and “serious” about the activity. The pumpkins came to $91.45.
The crowd was mostly excited to see Ryan, whose congressional district included the patch, trying to shake his hand and take his picture, though one small child could be heard shouting, “Is that Obama?”
The family also made caramel apples, with Ryan showing his children how to make the perfect treat.
Next up was the petting zoo where the Ryans fed the goats. He told his kids that their mom, who grew up in Oklahoma, “used to have goats.”
That’s when the topic of the impending debate came up one more time. When asked to contrast the goat feeding with the quite different debate prep, Ryan quipped, “It feels like the same.”
The large crowd of family, reporters, and secret service agents left the patch climbing into vans for the Ryans’ next stop: Tenuta’s Deli in Kenosha, home of the best Italian sausage, according to the Wisconsin congressman.
Ryan said he wanted to pick up spices for the venison sausage he intends to make after the election. Asked if sausage making is like making laws in Congress he said, “it’s very similar actually,” with a laugh.
“Everybody says that, but no, so I buy my spices here every year for my venison sausages,” Ryan answered.
Ryan said the secret to venison sausage is the deli’s famous spices and of course the venison he hunts, noting he does “all the butchering” himself.
“I grind it up and I make sausage out of it,” Ryan said. “I’ve been doing it for — since I was in my 20s.”
He said this year he will bring his 10-year-old daughter Liza with him for the very first time.
“What I do is I grind up my venison and I use these spices to make sausage so I’m going to make brats, I make Italian sausage, and I always buy something different every year to make,” Ryan said to the crowd of reporters standing at both ends of the supermarket aisle.
Earlier in the day he attended a fundraiser across the Wisconsin-Illinois border in the president’s hometown of Chicago. Despite being in his opponent’s hometown, Ryan actually praised the president’s former chief of staff and now mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel.
“We were proud — and I don’t say this a lot — but we were proud to stand with Rahm Emanuel when he took on the teachers union at the beginning of that fight,” Ryan told the crowd of 260 attendees who paid between $2,500 up to $25,000 to attend. “Too many people were silent on this.”
He was introduced by his friend, Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock, who said the event “hit a record” for Illinois state fundraising for the party this election cycle. He noted that Ryan has described himself as a “beer drinking, cheese curd eating, bow hunting Green Bay Packers fan. And in Chicago, we’re willing to give him three of those four vices.” He called his friend a “man’s man and a congressman’s congressman.”
The Illinois finance chairman for Romney-Ryan, Muneer Satter, added a few more words after Ryan, trying to squeeze a few more dollars out of the crowd, just one month from election day. Satter told supporters that McCain had raised money at end of campaign, but by then Obama had already bought much of the TV time.
“We’re going to afterburners, we need fuel. You have been generous. We need more money for the swing states and we need it now. Please, please bring a friend on board, help us in the swing states,” Satter said.
Ryan’s final stop of the day was the Italian American Society annual Columbus Day Dinner here at the Italian American Club. According to his spokesperson he has attended every year since he was elected to congress fourteen years ago, but one.