Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee was the culmination of a cloak-and-dagger tale — Ryan cutting through the woods near his home to avoid a network reporter and wearing a ball cap and sunglasses inside airports to avoid being recognized — that speaks to the secrecy, paranoia and high stakes involved in such a sensitive decision.
Beth Myers, a longtime Romney confidant tapped to lead the vice presidential selection after he became the presumptive GOP nominee in April, detailed the search to a few dozen reporters assembled in a hangar at Dulles International Airport outside Washington on Saturday evening. The report was embargoed from publication until midnight EDT.
"This was Mitt’s decision," she said, noting that she did not weigh in on the potential picks to avoid tainting the process. "He gave me direction every step of the way. ... He kept his own counsel."
Myers said Romney gave her one guiding principle.
"He had one directive – the candidate must be qualified to take office on Day 1," she said.
In April, campaign aides collected a large group of initial candidates on which to gather background. She declined to reveal numbers.
"We have a very deep bench with our candidates," she said. "There was never an issue of too few candidates."
In April and May, Myers met with former Vice President Dick Cheney, his daughter Liz Cheney and former Secretary of State James Baker as she sought to create a methodology for vetting the potential running mates. Cheney and Baker are veterans of past vice presidential searches.
Around May 1, a shortlist had been culled, and Romney called the candidates to ask whether they wanted to be considered. Concurrently, Myers recruited volunteer attorneys to comb through research, policy positions, the questionnaires the candidates filled out and public records. Potential running mates were asked to submit "several" years of tax returns. (That is an element likely to be raised by Democrats, since Romney has released only one year’s form, for 2010, though he plans to release his 2011 return when it is completed.) They worked in a secure room in the campaign headquarters in Boston and locked the material in a safe every night. No photocopies were made. On Friday, reporters leaving Romney campaign headquarters saw a man whose shirt bore a "Shred-It" logo take five bags out of the building.
In mid-June, Myers gave Romney preliminary reports and met with several candidates to go over issues that needed clarification. Romney consulted with senior advisers and others.
"A lot of people," Myers said. "He talked with a lot of people."
On July 2, she gave Romney the completed folders and he began to consider the options before he left on a trip overseas. He returned on July 31, had a final "gut check" meeting with senior advisers and the next day called Ryan to ask him to him to visit Sunday, Aug. 5, the day before Romney began to be covered around-the-clock by a pool of reporters.
On that day, Ryan flew from Chicago to Hartford, Conn.
"We gave a lot of thought on how to make this work undetected," Myers said.
So Ryan dressed casually, in jeans, a casual shirt, baseball cap and sunglasses, and passed through both airports unnoticed. Myers’ 19-year-old son Curt picked up the congressman in a rented SUV. They drove to Myers’ Brookline, Mass., home, pulled into the garage, and then Ryan sat down for lunch with Myers, her husband and her son.
Romney, driven by Secret Service agents, also pulled into Myers’ garage to avoid being seen. He and Ryan met privately for more than an hour in Myers’ dining room.
"By the time we met in person, I kind of knew it was going to happen, and I was very humbled. It was the biggest honor every given in my entire life," Ryan told reporters aboard Romney’s charter airplane later Saturday evening. "I love this country dearly and I feel we have an opportunity to fix things once and for all, and I feel very strongly about that. I’m excited about this. And I’ve spent most of my adult life fighting for these ideas, and I’m excited to have an opportunity to help Mitt do that. I know we can fix the problems we have in this country."
Romney and Ryan discussed their families and how they would work together if they made it to the White House, and the GOP nominee formally asked the Wisconsin congressman to be his running mate. They were later joined by senior campaign advisers.
While Ryan was at Myers’ home, he also learned about the shooting at the Sikh temple just outside Milwaukee in his congressional district, and worked with his congressional staff to respond. Later, Curt Myers drove Ryan back to the airport.
"He got to the airport unnoticed and off he went," Myers said.
Originally, the campaign planned to announce Ryan as the running mate on Friday in New Hampshire, but that would have conflicted with a memorial for the Sikh shooting victims. With Ryan planning to attend, the announcement was pushed back to Saturday in Norfolk, Va., at the first event of a Romney battleground states bus tour.
"This is where it gets a little complicated," Myers said.
The campaign knew reporters were tracking plane tail numbers, watching air movements before certain cities and, now, tracking Ryan’s every move. To avoid alerting the media, they chose alternate airports, deciding to fly Ryan on a private plane out of a small airport in Waukegan and into Elizabeth City, N.C.
So while Ryan attended the Friday memorial service, his wife, Janna, and their three children were driven to the Waukegan airport by the wife of his chief of staff Andy Speth. Meanwhile, Janna Ryan’s sister went to the Ryan home. After the memorial service, Speth drove Ryan back to his home. The congressman walked in the front door, greeted his sister-in-law, and then walked out the back door into the woods behind his house. He passed a tree fort he had built as a child, on a short walk to the driveway of his childhood home, where Speth picked him up and drove him to the airport.
"I know those woods like the back of my hand," Ryan said.
In Elizabeth City, Ryan was met by Myers and a Romney assistant and driven to the Fairfield Inn, where Myers and other senior advisers met them. They ate takeout from Applebee’s for dinner and went over Ryan’s speech before turning in.
On Saturday morning, they drove to the retired U.S. battleship Wisconsin, where the announcement left Ryan’s life forever changed.