Team Romney's Cloak-and-Dagger Veepstakes Ruse

The candidate and his campaign employed an elaborate routine of subterfuge to ensure they would control the running-mate announcement.

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Reuters

STERLING, Virginia -- By the time the press found out Paul Ryan would be Romney's vice presidential nominee, Ryan had already escaped his home in Wisconsin -- eluding a media stakeout by sneaking out the back door, traipsing through the woods, and coming out the other side, where a car awaited.

It was midafternoon Friday in Janesville, Wisconsin, and a network television reporter was camped out in front of Ryan's house to monitor his movements. But Ryan had a stealth advantage: Though his property backs up on a dense forest, on the other side sits the house where Ryan grew up. As a result, "He knew these woods well," said Beth Myers, the senior adviser to Mitt Romney who recounted the veepstakes saga -- a plot at times better suited to a spy movie than the world of politics, complete with street disguises, unmarked cars, and files kept locked in safes.

When Ryan emerged from the woods on Friday, his congressional chief of staff, Andy Speth, was waiting in the driveway of Ryan's childhood home. They drove more than an hour to a small airport in Waukegan, Illinois, north of Chicago, where they met Ryan's family, who'd been taken there separately by Speth's wife. A charter jet that departed about 5 p.m. took them to Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

Along with a small group of Romney aides, the Ryans checked into a Fairfield Inn and had dinner at a local Applebee's. Reporters looking for clues in air manifests had completely overlooked the flight from Illinois to North Carolina -- no one knew they were there, an hour's drive from the site of Romney's scheduled morning rally in Norfolk, Virginia.

At 11:08 p.m. Friday, the Romney campaign announced that a vice presidential announcement would be made in the morning, and Myers turned off her phone and went to bed.

Though the story of how Romney kept his running mate under wraps seems ridiculously elaborate in some regards, there's little doubt that it worked. The vice presidential announcement stayed secret until after midnight Saturday, just hours in advance of the Ryan rollout. And before the 11 p.m. press release announcing the announcement, reporters had little reason to suspect it was coming.

"We just knew we wanted to try to do this very quietly," Myers said.

Myers briefed reporters on the tale Saturday evening, in part, it seemed clear, to emphasize that Romney's decision had not been the result of outside pressure. Conservative pundits had been agitating for a Ryan pick in the days before he was chosen, but according to Myers' chronology, by the time the drumbeat began, the choice had already been made: Ryan had accepted the nod in a meeting with Romney at Myers' home in Brookline, Massachusetts, on Monday.

"This was Mitt's decision," Myers said. Though she was put in charge of the process, "he gave me direction every step of the way."

The process began in April, when Myers briefed Romney on a large group of potential candidates. On May 1, a short list was drafted -- Myers wouldn't say how short or who was on it -- and a group of volunteer lawyers began conducting research to vet the contenders. Each candidate under consideration provided the campaign with "several" years of tax records, among other information.

The lawyers worked exclusively in a secure room at the campaign's Boston headquarters; no copies were made of their files, which could not leave the room and were locked in a safe at the end of each day.

In mid-June, Myers met with many of the candidates in person and briefed Romney on the results of the preliminary vetting. Romney talked it over with a group of top advisers, and "everybody was very candid," Myers said. He also solicited opinions from a lot of people outside the campaign. Myers herself didn't tell her boss whom she thought he should pick -- her proper role, she believed, was simply to supply him with the information he needed to make a decision.

On Aug. 1 -- a week and a half ago -- Romney returned from his overseas trip and met again with his top advisers "for a final gut check," as Myers put it. Then he and Myers had a long conversation, and he told her his mind was made up. That day, he placed a call to Ryan from Myers' office. He didn't tell Ryan he'd been chosen -- though Ryan told reporters Saturday he had an inkling -- he just asked him to come to Boston as inconspicuously as possible.

On Monday, Ryan, on the campaign's advice, dressed in a casual shirt, jeans, a baseball hat and sunglasses. No one recognized him at either O'Hare in Chicago or Bradley Airport in Hartford, Connecticut. Myers' 19-year-old son, Curt, picked him up and took him to the house in Brookline in a rented SUV. Romney came down from his vacation house in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. And in Myers' dining room, with no one else present, Romney offered Ryan the spot on the ticket, and Ryan accepted.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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