"He had a basic conservative view" upon arrival at Empower America, said Bennett, who said he still hikes with Ryan. "But it was untutored."
Ryan first worked in Washington in 1991 as a college intern for Sen. Robert Kasten, R-Wis. He caught the eye of a top Kasten aide, Cesar Conda, who offered Ryan a post on Kasten's staff after Ryan's 1992 graduation, his first full-time Washington job.
Like Kemp, Conda was an adherent of "supply-side economics" — the notion that the best way to spur the economy was to let people keep more money by cutting taxes, not increasing federal spending.
"Paul would continually pop in and ask about what Kasten was working on or about this aspect of supply-side economics," said Conda, 51, who later worked for Vice President Dick Cheney and is now Rubio's chief of staff.
Conda gave Ryan two books that are classics among conservative economists: "The Way the World Works" by Jude Wanniski and "Wealth and Poverty" by George Gilder.
Conda played another pivotal role for Ryan. In 2007, Conda was an adviser to Romney's presidential campaign and introduced the two men in Washington. A scheduled 15-minute meeting lasted nearly an hour, Conda said.
"When Gov. Romney and I left, Romney said, 'I really liked him. He's very sharp,'" said Conda.
Family and friends say Ryan was raised by parents who admired Les Aspin, the local Democratic congressman, and Reagan.
After his three older siblings left home, a 16-year-old Ryan discovered his father, an attorney, dead of a heart attack. Ryan shouldered a pile of household responsibilities, helping care for a live-in ailing grandmother, getting a job at McDonald's and being elected class president, said his brother Tobin.
"Paul learned pretty early to pick himself up by his bootstraps and create something on his own," his brother said.
As a college junior at Miami of Ohio, Ryan studied macroeconomic theory under Professor Richard Hart, a libertarian. Hart says they spent hours discussing the virtues of small government, individual responsibility and free-market capitalism.
In that 2009 commencement speech, Ryan credited Hart for creating "a vision quest in my mind to improve the economy of our nation."
Even so, Hart says Ryan arrived at Miami "with these core conservative beliefs."
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