What Paul Ryan Doesn't Know About Smoking Pot

Paul Ryan, a square's idea of a young man

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Paul Ryan speaks at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Paul Ryan might bring an injection of youth and energy to the ticket, but truly he is an old budget nerd’s idea of a young man (even if he does famously enjoy the musical stylings of Rage Against the Machine).

[Read 10 Things You Didn't Know About Paul Ryan.]

When GOP vice presidential nominee-in-waiting Paul Ryan first ran for office in 1998, I spent a few hours following him as he worked the crowd at the “Taste of Janesville” fair in his Wisconsin hometown. I was writing for The Hill newspaper at the time and the opening of my story recounted Ryan’s talking with a self-proclaimed psychic, “sitting at the corner of the table, which is covered with a purple tablecloth with astrological signs embroidered into it in gold,” I wrote at the time. “The smell of what might be incense hangs in the air.”

The story continued:

The psychic is feeling it now, warning Ryan to be leery of a balding man at work, but Ryan doesn't know anyone like that and extricates himself.

"That was weird," he says. "Did you smell that? That was pot." He quickly added. "Not that I'd know--I've been to concerts."

It seemed such an odd walkback—recognizing the smell of marijuana hardly makes one a reefer madness dope fiend. But when I would subsequently speak to him occasionally on the Hill, he chided me for having included the quote in my story, as if the mere fact of recognizing that distinctive smell could get him in political trouble.

[Mary Kate Cary: 10 Reasons Paul Ryan Should Be Mitt Romney's VP]

One other note about that 1998 race: Ryan was running to succeed Rep. Mark Neumann, who was vacating his seat to run for Senate. Gov. Tommy Thompson was at the top of the state ticket that year, seeking what would be his final re-election. Neumann lost, but Ryan and Thompson won, as did the first openly lesbian woman elected to the U.S. House, then state Rep. Tammy Baldwin, one of whose primary opponents had had a young staffer named Jim Messina.

[See political cartoons about the 2012 presidential campaign.]

Flash forward 14 years: Ryan is the number two on a ticket going up against a campaign managed by Messina. Neumann is once again running for Senate, squaring off against Thompson in a four way GOP primary on Tuesday. The winner of that race will face Baldwin in November. It's a small world after all.

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