Despite voting solidly against abortion rights, he's given little indication, especially in recent years, that he wants to go to the ramparts on the issue. His litmus test has been budget matters, and he's been known to endorse candidates who see abortion differently, saying he is willing to agree to disagree "with mutual respect."
In 2009, he voted to prohibit federal money from being used to pay for an abortion or for any part of a health plan that covers abortion — except when the abortion results from rape or incest or when the pregnancy threatens the woman's life.
Many years earlier, he backed bans on so-called partial birth abortion that made an exception for the life of the mother, but not for rape or incest.
A number of his legislative actions qualify as parochial measures. For instance, he's sponsored legislation to modify tax treatment of archery equipment and ease tariffs on motorcycle wheels, clearly a nod to Harley-Davidson Motor Co.'s Wisconsin base.
The local touches don't impress Ryan opponents, who say he's padded his national reputation at the expense of his district.
State Rep. Peter Barca, a Democratic former congressman from southeastern Wisconsin, criticized Ryan's record and proposals as inconsistent with the pulse of the area he represents.
"He's an articulate, good-looking guy," Barca said. "He'd talk like a moderate in Wisconsin but it wasn't until his last budget that people saw how extreme his views are."
Still, Ryan has won seven congressional elections, most handily. He has never run statewide, meaning the campaign to snatch the Wisconsin electoral votes that went to President Barack Obama last time will be a test of his appeal beyond his back yard.
Bakst reported from St. Paul, Minn.
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