JANESVILLE, Wis. – The celebration ended much too soon for Paul Ryan’s supporters, who entered the evening eager to celebrate the election of their native son as vice president of the United States.
For several hundred people who had gathered in a hotel ballroom here for a victory party organized by Ryan’s congressional campaign, it was a roller-coaster night. But the thrill ended early.
Supporters experienced a high about 9:30 p.m. when it was announced that Ryan, the popular seven-term congressman from this blue-collar city of 60,000, had been re-elected to his congressional seat, defeating Democrat Rob Zerban.
Shortly after, however, the networks called Wisconsin for President Barack Obama.
Richard Topf, of Genoa City, said the air was sapped when the news was announced. “You begin to see people more mellow,” he said. “Now, people are watching the screen with fear.”
Jim Hanrahan and Monica Frances, who own homes in Wisconsin and Illinois, got up from their table shortly after the networks announced Obama won. “The energy dropped off as Obama’s votes added up.”
Officials tried to make the best of the night. At just before 10:30 p.m., Wisconsin Rep. Tyler August of Lake Geneva addressed the thinned-out crowd. “It’s not the night we wanted,” he said, but adding of Ryan, “he’s still ours.”
Even among residents of one of the candidate’s hometowns, the nation’s deep divisions were evident.
Having voted earlier for Ryan, Mark Knudson settled in Tuesday at a local tavern to eat dinner, drink some beers and watch results.
“I think he’s a great guy,” said Knudson of his former high school classmate. “Plus I agree with what he has to say.”
Joining him was Robin Schroeder. “I would not vote for him,” said the 43-year-old saleswoman.
Agreeing to disagree isn’t uncommon in this Midwestern city, a place heavy with blue-collar sentiment but proud of its native son.
On a dreary and rainy Election Day, voters turned out in droves, occasionally waiting in lines for as long as 45 minutes.
This city has turned blue of late in elections – Rock County went for Obama in 2008 by almost 30 percentage points and hasn’t voted for a Republican since Ronald Reagan in 1984.
That trend was thought to be tested though when Mitt Romney chose Ryan, the wonkish, popular congressman first elected in 1998, to fill out the Republican ticket. It was not to be.
On Tuesday morning, Ryan voted with his family at a downtown library a short walk from his home in Courthouse Hill. Nearly eight hours later, the line was dozens of people deep.
Bert Janis, the precinct’s election inspector, said the high turnout – at least for her wards – was probably due to the ties with Ryan and local competitive races.
“I’ve not worked an election this busy, and I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” Janis said. “This line has not stopped all day.”
Dave Kjendle, 47, who attended high school with Ryan’s older brother, said he typically votes for Republicans, so Ryan’s name on the ticket had only so much of an impact on him, but he added, “It’s definitely a lot more interesting this year.”
For others, Ryan’s name carries only so much sway.
“I like him as a person,” Paige Stephenson, 48, said of Ryan. “I just think Obama needs four more years to work.”
Ryan will remain in Washington because of his congressional seat victory – made possible because dual races are allowed under Wisconsin law. Ryan’s high-profile presence in Congress will likely mean continued attention for Wisconsin – which is fine by many folks.
“That puts Janesville on the map, whether he wins or not,” said Anna Streuly, 72.
By Jared S. Hopkins, Chicago Tribune