WAUKESHA, Wis. (AP) — Two days after Paul Ryan sneaked out of Wisconsin to grab a spot on Republican Mitt Romney's presidential ticket, the congressman wiped away a tear Sunday evening as he returned in more celebrated fashion at a joint campaign appearance that drew thousands.
"Hi, Mom," Ryan said, his voice crackling, as he took the stage and looked out over a sprawling crowd.
"My veins run with cheese, bratwurst and a little Spotted Cow, Leinie's and some Miller," Ryan said, paying homage to Wisconsin beers. "I'm a Wisconsinite through and through. I can't tell you what it means to be home."
Romney relished in the showing too, saying it proves he made the right pick. He said tears filled his own eyes watching Ryan soak it in.
"What a homecoming for a terrific guy," Romney said before launching into a standard recitation of his policy priorities.
It was part homecoming, part send-off.
From the rally at a fairgrounds in Waukesha, the strongest of Republican strongholds, Ryan departed immediately for his first solo swing as a vice presidential candidate. Beginning Monday, he will hit the swing states of Iowa and Colorado while Romney resumes a bus tour through other critical states.
The dean of the Wisconsin congressional delegation, Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, praised Romney for turning to "a son of our state to lead America's economic comeback."
Wisconsin's Republican elites were on hand in force, from Gov. Scott Walker to freshman Sen. Ron Johnson. Four Senate candidates competing in Tuesday's primary attended as well.
Wisconsin has been a hard state for Republicans to crack. No presidential nominee has won its electoral votes since 1984, although some have come excruciatingly close.
Retired teacher Pat Schreck said the addition of Ryan makes her more enthusiastic about Romney. Now she said she'll do more than just vote this year.
"I want to actually help with this campaign," Schreck said. "I may not have gotten involved. I feel so much stronger about the whole thing because of what Ryan brings to this."
Many in the crowd predicted the new pairing will send a jolt through a race that promises to be tight up to November's election.
"He is the catalyst for the campaign," said Michael Crowley, a plastics manufacturing company executive and part-time county official.
At a labor hall in Milwaukee, Democrats had their own welcome home, saying the Ryan pick was sure to fire up their base too.
Rep. Gwen Moore, a Democrat who serves on the Ryan-led House budget committee, said while she finds Ryan to be personable she doesn't think the country can stomach his policies.
"I have seen Rep. Ryan's charts, graphs, statistics and number-crunching," she said. "I have spent years scratching my head because those numbers don't add up."
She added, "This is a choice election: If we are going to have the community society as Americans or if we're going to have the yo-yo society — you're going to be on your own. That's the message of the Romney-Ryan ticket."
Rep. Tammy Baldwin, who came to Congress the same year as Ryan and is now seeking an open Senate seat, said the pick makes it easier for Democrats to make the case they'll do more to protect the middle class.
"We thought this election was going to be about repealing Obamacare. This election is going to be about repealing Medicare," Baldwin said, equating Ryan's proposal for restructuring the retiree health care program with Democratic President Barack Obama's signature law to assure most Americans get insurance coverage.
While beaming at the Waukesha GOP rally with pride about a home-state congressman playing on the grandest stage, many recognized that they may be about to lose him.
"I guess I'd call it a send-off," said Gene Prudhon, an optometrist from southwestern Wisconsin.
Added Jim Enerson, a mechanic, longtime constituent and supporter of Ryan: "We're more than happy to give up Paul Ryan. He'll do wonderful."