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GOP convention set to get its first close look at Paul Ryan

Republican U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) introduces U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his vice-presidential running mate during a campaign event at the retired battleship USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia, in this August 11, 2012, file photo.


For instant analysis and commentary of Paul Ryan's big speech tonight, check out The Globe and Mail's live blog tonight starting at 9:45 p.m.

He is Mitt Romney's biggest gamble.

Wednesday night the American people will get their first good look at Paul Ryan, the 42-year old Wisconsin congressman picked by Mr. Romney as his vice-presidential candidate.

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From diehard conservatives, Mr. Ryan receives rave reviews. But beyond his adoring fans and his home state of Wisconsin, he is an unknown quantity. The budget plan he proposed and championed contains spending cuts and changes to government programs that are outside the political mainstream.

So far at least, Mr. Ryan doesn't appear to be a major asset to the Republican ticket, but nor does he appear to be a burden on it. Polls show that support for Mr. Romney in Wisconsin, Mr. Ryan's home state, has jumped to a point that is within striking distance of President Barack Obama.

"Conservatives are very happy, but he's also got to relate to the rest of the country," said Christopher Bateman, a state senator from New Jersey attending the convention. "I'm excited to hear from him."

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that more people were interested in hearing Mr. Ryan's speech than Mr. Romney's address on Thursday, though overall the convention is eliciting less interest than four years ago.

Ever since Mr. Ryan joined the ticket, Democrats have portrayed him as a radical who espouses drastic changes to signature government programs like Medicare and Social Security. Mr. Ryan favours overhauling Medicare – which provides health benefits for seniors – and replacing it with a voucher system.

Mr. Ryan is also fervently pro-life. He co-sponsored anti-abortion measures with Todd Akin, the congressman from Missouri now running for Senate who set off a firestorm with his recent comments about rape and pregnancy. Mr. Ryan has criticized Mr. Akin's remarks and urged him to abandon his senate bid.

A career politician known for his affable manner, Mr. Ryan is married and has three young children, who no doubt will be on hand for his primetime debut.

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Mr. Ryan will take to the convention stage as Hurricane Isaac continues to batter Louisiana, seven years to the day after the devastating arrival of Hurricane Katrina. There are reports of flooding southeast of New Orleans and in Mississippi, but so far the storm does not appear to be having a catastrophic impact.

Still, the severe weather remains a challenge for Republicans, who are struggling with the appropriate way to show concern for those affected while forging ahead with what is essentially a three-day long political celebration. Very few of the speakers on Tuesday night referenced the hurricane, with the prominent exception of Ann Romney.

The crowd gave Ms. Romney an enthusiastic welcome and appeared to hang on every word of her speech, where she described her husband of forty-two years as a "good and decent man" who is "kind, loving and patient." She urged Americans to trust Mr. Romney with their future. "No one will work harder. No one will care more," she said.

Chris Christie, the combative governor of New Jersey, took a more confrontational tack in his keynote address. Democrats, he said, would "whistle a happy tune while driving us off the fiscal cliff."

On Wednesday night, a fresh roster of prominent Republicans is due to speak, including John McCain, the senator from Arizona who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Obama for the presidency in 2008.

Mr. McCain is expected to address an area that has received short shrift at the podium so far in the convention – foreign policy. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state under President George W. Bush, is also speaking Wednesday night.

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