As vice-presidential pick Paul Ryan wraps up his first week on the trail, the Wisconsin Republican is winning strong reviews from conservatives for his easygoing, articulate speeches. Behind the scenes, Ryan’s campaign staffers are also drawing notice. They have made few, if any, stumbles, and Ryan has avoided making many of the rollout mistakes that have plagued past contenders.
As Bloomberg News has reported, Romney’s senior advisers have taken care to ease Ryan into his new role. Reince Priebus, the RNC chairman and former Wisconsin GOP chairman, has joined Ryan on the road, as has Bob White, an influential Romney adviser and former Bain Capital executive with years of management experience.
Below is a guide to Ryan’s new inner circle. It’s a group of fresh hands, old friends, and confidants. More Ryan advisers will soon be added to the mix. For what it’s worth, one senior Romney adviser says Ryan’s familiarity with his campaign staffers has been integral to the smooth transition from congressman to vice-presidential candidate.
Ryan’s chief of staff since 1998, Speth is a military veteran and Ryan’s closet adviser. A member of Wisconsin’s Air National Guard, Speth has served multiple tours in the Middle East, including as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has been a key player throughout Ryan’s career, from helping him with his initial fiscal “roadmap” five years ago to planning a series of town-hall meetings to explain Ryan’s budget to his constituents. During the secretive selection process, Ryan asked Speth to pick him up from the woods behind Ryan’s home and drive him to the airport. He has been traveling with Ryan ever since.
Speth may not be a well-known presence inside the Beltway, but he has Ryan’s ear. And he is an influential player in Madison, the state capitol, where he has close relationships with many state-government politicos. As Ryan has risen in Washington, Speth has focused on managing not only Ryan’s office, but also the congressman’s role as a mentor to Wisconsin Republicans. The pair’s connection is understandable: They are the same age, both Janesville natives, and grew up working as staffers in Wisconsin politics — Speth for state senator Gary Drzewiecki and Ryan for Bob Kasten, a United States senator. Speth is a 1992 graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater, near Ryan’s home.
Senor is a Romney senior adviser who has been tapped to guide Ryan as he travels the country. He brings years of foreign-policy experience to the campaign, and he is best known as the former chief spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. A frequent presence on Morning Joe and on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Senor has known Ryan for over a decade, going back to their days as congressional staffers in the late 1990s. A vocal supporter of Israel, Senor is the author of Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle and a founder of the Foreign Policy Initiative. He is also married to Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor.
Like Speth, Meyer has been a leader of Ryan’s congressional operation for years. Speth runs Ryan’s home-district office, while Meyer runs the Washington office. These days, she and Speth are both traveling with Ryan. And like many in Ryan’s circle, she is from Wisconsin. She got to know Ryan when they both working for former Kansas senator Sam Brownback during the late 1990s. A University of Wisconsin – Madison graduate, Meyer’s bailiwick is tax policy; since Ryan began his House career, she has been one of his senior aides, assisting him with Ways and Means Committee work and budget drafts.
Scully, National Review’s former literary editor, recently joined Ryan’s traveling campaign crew. For Ryan, it’s a big get. Scully is considered to be one of the preeminent Republican speechwriters of the past decade, from his work for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney during the 2000 presidential campaign to his speeches for Sarah Palin four years ago. Scully co-wrote Palin’s much-lauded convention speech and he is currently working with Ryan on his Tampa address.
McConnell, who works with Scully, is a Yale Law grad. He rose to prominence during the Bush years, where he served as one of Bush 43’s top writers. He also penned many speeches for Vice President Cheney, with whom he remains close. During the early days of his career, McConnell, an amiable, square-jawed Wisconsin native, worked as a speechwriter for Vice President Dan Quayle.
A former journalist at National Journal, Steel is now Ryan’s traveling press secretary. Steel brings a wealth of congressional experience, most notably his recent work as spokesman for Speaker Boehner. A graduate of Columbia University’s School of Journalism, Steel is well known on Capitol Hill as a workhorse, and he has been a constant presence at Boehner’s side during legislative brawls. Before joining Boehner’s shop, Steel worked for congressman John Shadegg of Arizona and at the Ways and Means Committee.
Like Steel, Buck is a former Boehner spokesman who, with the speaker’s blessing, joined the Romney campaign earlier this summer. And as with Steel, Buck has been assigned to be an adviser to Ryan, whom he knows through his work in the House. Buck, a tall and lanky Georgia native and University of Georgia graduate, began his career as an aide to Representative Tom Price, a Peach State Republican and a current member of GOP leadership. Buck’s past work as a spokesman for the Republican Study Committee, a right-wing caucus, kept him close to the conservative movement’s Capitol Hill wing and conservative activists.
Stewart rounds out the trio of former senior Boehner aides who are working for Candidate Ryan. Stewart, for his part, is working with Ryan on economic and tax policy, a topic he covered for Boehner. Stewart joined Boehner’s staff after his former boss, Pennsylvania congressman Phil English, was defeated in 2008. A California native, Stewart graduated from San Diego State University in 2000 and spent much of his early career working for English, ending as his deputy chief of staff.
Sweeney, a traveling adviser to Ryan, has worked at senior levels in both Ryan’s congressional office and at the House Budget Committee. During the 2011 and 2012 budget debates, he served as the committee’s chief spokesman. He has also directed communications for Ryan’s political-action committee, where he has assisted nervous candidates and House members with understanding Ryan’s budget. A Badger State native and Marquette grad, Sweeney has spent his entire career with Ryan, beginning as an intern during college.
Back in Boston, Bumps, a former political director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, serves as director of vice-presidential operations. He was assigned that post back in July, long before Ryan was picked. He works closely with Matt Rhoades, Romney’s campaign manager. Bumps, a Maine native, is a former chairman of the Maine GOP and served in Maine’s state legislature from 1996 to 2002. He is a graduate of Bates College and friendly with many within Romney’s circle.
Back in July, Sheridan and Bumps were the two initial veep staffers named by the Romney campaign. Sheridan runs the communications team out of Boston. He is a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee and directed regional media during the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign in 2004. Before joining Team Romney, Sheridan was a senior vice president at Edelman, a public-relations firm. A decade ago, Sheridan was a press aide to Virginia governor Jim Gilmore, and before that, he worked in Connecticut state politics. He has a bachelor’s degree in politics and economics from the University of Connecticut.
Wehner, a recently tapped senior adviser to the Romney campaign, is a longtime Ryan associate. He will advise the entire Romney-Ryan campaign, but he will likely work closely with Ryan on various issues. For the past few years, Wehner has been a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington and an opinion writer whose articles often appear in Commentary. During the Bush administration, Wehner was director of White House office of strategic initiatives and a top speechwriter. He previously worked in both the Bush 41 and Reagan administrations. Wehner’s ties to Ryan go back decades: As the executive director of Empower America, a conservative think tank, in the mid-1990s, Wehner was a mentor to Ryan, then in his twenties, during his rapid rise.
Kastan is Ryan’s “body man,” which means he is the personal aide for the veep as he travels, helping him with his itinerary and his event preparation. Kastan, who is in his early twenties, has spent the past year as an advance staffer for the Romney campaign. He grew up in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio, and played football at Tufts University.
Smith is director of vice-presidential advance planning, where he coordinates travel and manages Ryan’s schedule. He joined Romney’s campaign as a senior advance staffer back in January. Before coming to Boston, Smith was a senior advance man for the Pawlenty presidential campaign. Previous stints include work at the Republican National Committee and for Dick Kempthorne, Bush 43’s final secretary of the interior. Smith is a 2006 graduate of Mississippi College, a private Christian university in Clinton, Miss.
For the time being, the above list is Ryan’s campaign circle. But that isn’t the extent of Ryan’s network. Other notable figures in Ryan World include former education secretary Bill Bennett, Ryan’s mentor; Yuval Levin, an outside policy adviser and editor of National Affairs; and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office. Stephen Spruiell, a former NR writer and Ryan adviser, is now one of Romney’s speechwriters. Austin Smythe, a senior Ryan aide, continues to run the budget committee. And on the political side, Kevin Seifert, a Ryan adviser, is now managing Ryan’s House campaign.