Paul Ryan, the presumptive Republican vice-presidential candidate, returned Wednesday to the campus where his early roots in politics began.
Ryan noted he stood at the former site of Miami University’s hockey team as he delivered his first Ohio campaign speech at the Engineering Quad near High Street since being named Mitt Romney’s running partner.
“Wasn’t Goggin Ice Arena right here?” he joked with the energized crowd of GOP supporters. A new ice arena was built in 2006 in a different location long after Ryan graduated from the school in 1992. The arena is home to the Redhawks nationally-acclaimed hockey team.
Even as Ryan gave his speech, people stood in line among Miami’s red-brick Georgian buildings trying to get a glimpse of the former Delta Tau Delta fraternity member.
Campaign staff members said about 3,600 people RSVP’s and received tickets by signing in online, but as many as 5,000 were thought to have attended.
“I knew there would be a crowd with the selection of Paul Ryan,” said David Kern, chairman of the Butler County Republican Party. “We’re just pumped up and Paul Ryan has got the public excited.”
Kern said it was important for people to know that Ryan developed his philosophy while a Miami student and described the presumptive GOP vice presidential candidate as a “visceral free market fiscal conservative.”
“This evolved so quickly. It’s remarkable how this was put together,” Kern said. “This is not organizing your daughter’s wedding.”
State Rep. Tim Derickson and state Sen. Bill Coley, who represent Butler County in the Statehouse, introduced Miami, local and county officials and spent some time warming up the crowd for about 15 minutes. As they left, Romney campaign staffers passed out small placards saying “Ohio Believes” and small American flags to the crowd lining the barricaded area with supporters.
Throughout the rally, Ryan’s connection to Miami was emphasized.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich talked about working with Ryan on the House Budget Committee as well as saying Miami is a top university.
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, was one of several people that was considered to run with Romney, who later chose Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman.
“The Red Hawks are soaring tonight because one of your own is on the national stage,” Portman said.
State Rep. Margy Condit said Ryan was a good choice for the GOP ticket.
“What a great addition to the ticket,” she said. “He’ll energize the campaign and I love the fact he went to school at Miami University in Butler County.”
Derickson, a 1984 Miami graduate, said after the speech that Ryan’s speech was “very encouraging from a graduate from Miami.”
Dustin Weida, a 2007 Miami grad and now an architect in Cincinnati, attended the rally with some friends.
“It was absolutely wonderful that there were so many young people here in support of him,” he said. “It often feels that the Democrats cater to young people saying that they’re on their side but they are not looking at the long term.”
Earlier in the afternoon, about a dozen people from Fight For A Fair Economy had gathered near the rally entryway to protest changes to Medicare. They were holding signs opposing Mitt Romney as a candidate for U.S. President. A small group of students protested at noon.
Sean Mills, one of about a dozen people chanting outside of the gates said his group was backing up other students who were expressing their opposition to Ryan and Romney.
“My objection is that I am an 18-year-old on Pell Grants and other financial aid and when I pay it back, I don’t want to pay the 6.8 percent interest rate,” Mills said. “I’m also concerned about the Medicare issue. His (Romney’s) policies are vague and he says he doesn’t like it but he has nothing to replace it with.”
Earlier in the day, the streets were busy as Wednesday was the unofficial move-in day for Miami University students living off campus. One worker at Skipper’s Pub on High Street said the business expected to busy with students moving in and the rally later in the evening.
“It’s exciting our campus is getting this attention. It reaffirms why I chose to come to this school,” student Andrew Smith said.
Hannah Poturalski and Mandy Gambrell contributed to this story.