"We're mostly Democratic country here," Wixom explained, sipping coffee at the Sizzlin' Grill in Janesville's faded downtown.
Ryan nevertheless has won re-election easily since he was first elected to the U.S. House in 1998 at the age of 28. He has tended to have only token opposition. For four elections in a row, through 2006, Ryan had the same marginal opponent, who didn't even raise any campaign money to challenge him.
Janesville sits at the far western end of his congressional district, which includes conservative Milwaukee suburbs near the state's eastern edge. In 2010, Ryan won more than 80 percent of the vote in conservative Waukesha County, running against John Heckenlively of Racine, an unemployed local Democratic official who jumped in at the last minute because no one else was running and who tried campaigning without a car. Ryan brought in 64 percent of the vote that year in Rock County, where Janesville is.
He will be on the ballot again in November; if he wins the vice presidency, the state will hold a special election for the 1st District seat.
Peter Barca, the Democratic minority leader in the Wisconsin State Assembly, used to represent the same congressional district that Ryan does now. He said the scope of Ryan's desire to slash federal programs had become fully clear to voters only gradually.
"Up until this past couple years, when he became budget chairman and actually put forward a budget, I don't think people really did have a sense that he had ideas like ending Medicare as we know it," Barca said.
Local Ryan supporters such as Ray and Helen Flood, while saying that the government needs to stop spending so much, don't mention his "Path to Prosperity" budget plan until they're asked about it.
They focus on Ryan's personal characteristics: They like him because he is smart, doesn't get rattled and is a family man who comes home to Janesville three days a week and doesn't rent a house while he's in Washington the rest of the time.
"You know what I like about him? Four days a week he sleeps in his office," Ray Flood said.
Ryan in 2004 helped lead an unsuccessful effort in Congress to create private investment accounts for Social Security benefits. But he really started his path to national conservative stardom in 2008 with his "Roadmap for America's Future," which preceded the budget plan he put out as House Budget Committee chairman after the 2010 elections.
It calls for greatly reducing future federal spending on Medicaid - the health care program for poor people and those with disabilities - as well as limiting how much future retirees could get through Medicare health coverage. Retirees would receive lump sums of money to buy private insurance or to participate in traditional Medicare programs.
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John Beckford, the president of the business advocacy group Forward Janesville, said he had heard Ryan make what he thought was a convincing argument around town on the federal budget deficit that "we deal with these problems now or the solution gets really ugly." Not everyone agrees with his plan, Beckford said, but Ryan doesn't belittle his opponents.
Ryan pledged in 2008 to stop taking earmarks - money Congress allocates for specific projects or organizations - but he does support funding in his district, which relies on government dollars to help its economic recovery. Ryan condemned Obama's stimulus package but he wrote letters backing stimulus programs in Wisconsin.
Kevin Murray, a retired firefighter in Janesville, said Ryan supported federal grants to help the department with equipment and staffing. But over time Ryan's positions on issues such as Medicare privatization have cost him union support, Murray said.
Murray said he couldn't support Ryan's policies and that he disagreed with giving tax cuts to wealthier Americans.
But Murray, whose father taught math to Ryan in school, said he had nothing bad to say about Ryan the Janesvillian.
"I took my father with me to Washington, D.C., for the national firefighters lobby day out there. Paul always had time for us. That's the kind of guy he is. Right off the bat, he gives my dad a big hug: 'Hi, Mr. Murray, how are you doing?'"
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