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Rep. Paul Ryan, Politics in America Profile

He also supported aid to the domestic auto industry, which historically has had a major presence in Ryan's hometown of Janesville. A June 2010 profile in the libertarian magazine Reason noted this dual persona, calling Ryan "one of the staunchest and most serious small-government advocates in Congress today" who is also "a savvy Washington politician who defends parochial, home-state interests when necessary."

The youngest of four children, Ryan was 16 when his father died. His mother used Social Security survivor's benefits to help pay for his college education. He said that helped shape his personal and political beliefs. "It made me more of a self-starter and scrapper," Ryan said. He "wasn't one of these guys who thought from second grade on that he wanted to run for Congress." But after college, he took a job as an aide to Wisconsin GOP Sen. Bob Kasten. His direct speaking style mirrors that of his two mentors, Kemp and William Bennett, former Republican Cabinet secretaries and co-founders of Empower America, a conservative think tank where Ryan worked. He also worked for Kansas Republican Sam Brownback in the House and Senate.

After five years in Washington, he returned to Wisconsin to join his family's earth-moving and construction business. When GOP Rep. Mark Neumann ran for the Senate in 1998, Ryan sought the open seat. His opponent in November was Democrat Lydia Spottswood, a former Kenosha City Council president who nearly beat Neumann in 1996. Ryan proved a superior campaigner - he earned the nickname "Robocandidate" - and won by more than 27,000 votes, a surprisingly large margin given that the previous three races in the district had been decided by no more than 4,000 votes. He entered Congress in January 1999 as the youngest member of that year's freshman class - 28 years old.

He has since won each re-election with more than 62 percent of the vote. President George W. Bush offered to make him his budget director during his second term, an offer Ryan turned down.

He hasn't ruled out a future Senate bid but decided against a presidential candidate bid in 2012, despite the importuning of many conservatives. "My head is not that big and my kids are too small," he told the New York Times in 2010. However, in the same interview, he left open the possibility of accepting the vice presidential nomination if offered. "I'd cross that bridge if we ever come to it," he said.

That bridge has now been crossed.

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