By KASIE HUNT and STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — After Mitt Romney decided on a running mate, Paul Ryan's carefully planned transition from congressman to vice presidential candidate began — in deep secret.
Almost a week ago, Ryan snuck through Chicago's O'Hare airport in a baseball cap and sunglasses and flew to New England. A Romney adviser's 19-year-old son picked up Ryan and drove him to a private meeting in his parents' dining room where the deal was sealed.
By Friday afternoon, Ryan was cutting through the Wisconsin woods behind his home to evade a reporter on the street out front, and heading to North Carolina. By night, he was eating Applebee's takeout at a nondescript chain hotel in that state and preparing for his big debut speech, according to a top Romney campaign aide who described the furtive maneuvering to reporters late Saturday.
All this, so that no one would see it coming: A Saturday morning unveiling of the GOP ticket in Norfolk outside the USS Wisconsin, the battleship named for Ryan's home state, as the sweeping theme from the movie "Air Force One" played.
This was the culmination of a methodical, highly secretive process that involved 10 top Romney staffers, a volunteer team of attorneys, a secret secure room in Romney's Boston headquarters, and reams of paper on a long and then a short list of potential candidates.
In the end, the decision about who to pick rested only with Romney: A candidate who is known for marshaling opinions from across the spectrum, gathering and analyzing all the available data, and then evaluating the risks — before making the final call alone.
The people around Romney told him it was risky.
As the Republican presidential candidate prepared to pick his running mate, he kept in constant touch with his senior advisers. They met in small groups and alone with the candidate. He talked to a number of other friends and confidantes, soliciting advice and opinions.
Aides knew the decision was fraught, and they told Romney so. It was a choice, they knew, that would fundamentally re-shape the race for the presidency. It would acknowledge Romney needed to offer voters more than just being the guy who wasn't Democratic President Barack Obama. And it would tie Romney to the architect of a highly controversial budget proposal that Democrats are eager to use to badger the Republican.
Romney himself decided the chance was worth taking.
"This was Mitt's decision," said Beth Myers, the senior adviser who led the vice presidential search. "He kept his own counsel."
In picking Ryan, Romney bypassed Republicans including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Officials said he had called all five to notify them of his decision. Pawlenty received a call Monday evening, the day after Ryan accepted, while the other four were all notified Friday, just hours before the announcement.
Romney's campaign kept the details of the search carefully concealed until late Saturday.
Myers outlined the process for reporters who gathered in a cavernous airport hangar at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, saying she consulted with former Vice President Dick Cheney about the extensive, highly sensitive process.
A long list drawn up in April of possible contenders was narrowed by May. Romney called the people on it to ask if they were willing to undergo the intensive vetting process.
All said yes. Everyone who was asked submitted detailed questionnaires and paperwork, including several years' worth of tax returns.
The volunteer attorneys sequestered in a secured room pored over the documents. They dug through public records. Each night, they locked the paper in safes in the Boston headquarters.
Some questions came up. So in June, during an event for donors in Park City, Utah, Myers met with several candidates to clarify a few more details with each. On July 2, she met with Romney at his home in Wolfeboro, N.H., where they went through folders on each person under consideration.
On Wednesday, August 1, the day after returning from a weeklong trip abroad, Romney met one last time with the nine advisers he had consulted throughout the process, including longtime friend Bob White, campaign manager Matt Rhoades and years-long confidante Ron Kaufman.