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Monday, Aug 13 2012 11:45 AM

Shoppers, meet this guy Paul Ryan

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    Robert Price

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By ROBERT PRICE

Politically engaged Americans turned to the usual cast of characters to learn the likely campaign consequences of Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate. You know the guys: East Coast political columnists, National Public Radio's resident wonks, the talking heads of cable news.

I, however, turned to the Westchester farmers market, where every Saturday morning ordinary Americans engage in the ordinary business of responsible nutrition -- an undertaking about as distant from the marble pillars of national government as can be.

Who, I asked people, is Paul Ryan?

Jennifer Wright, walking toward her car with three friends and a three-pound bag of still-in-the-pod black-eyed-peas, knew Ryan was the man Romney had just named as his Republican running mate, but she wasn't ready to offer an opinion on the guy just yet. Too early.

But her young friend Breanna Sorriell had started forming an impression. Ryan had already impacted her life -- in a negative way. "I know last night he interrupted the Olympics on TV," she said, shaking her head in mild disgust.

"So he's off to a bad start," her friend Eddie Thomas chimed in, laughing.

Sue Jennings, a retired social worker, knew all about Ryan -- and she was not encouraged. "With Romney and Ryan in there, they'll want to run the government like a business and I just don't think you can do that. Certainly things are a mess, but we can't let too many holes in the safety net. We've got to have some tax increases -- you can't fix everything with just cuts."

Tom and Lois Mayo of Taft, selling her handmade jewelry under an awning next to the cut-flowers vendor, had a similar take.

"Nobody over 50 years old is going to vote for this guy Ryan," Tom Mayo said, tugging on his bushy gray beard. "He's gonna whack Medicare, he's gonna hack everything. He's the worst choice for vice-president since Spiro T. Agnew."

That would be the first of Richard Nixon's two vice-presidents -- the one forced to resign over charges of tax evasion. Somehow I doubt Ryan deserves that sort of company, but what's a presidential election without a little impassioned hyperbole? The candidates are fully engaged in it.

Before Ryan can explain his principles of deficit reduction he'll have to cross the name recognition bridge. Marketers might say there's strength in the simplicity of his common Irish name, but he also sounds like he could be someone or something he isn't. That became clear as I walked through the market.

Paul Ryan, anyone? Anyone?

"Someone from sports, I'd guess," offered Christa Cardoza, who was cute in her milkman outfit. (She was selling dairy products from Rosa Brothers Milk Co. of Hanford.) "I'd say soccer. He plays forward."

Jessica Martin, seated next to her, figured Ryan was an award-winning sportswriter who specialized in basketball. Nicole Schott, similarly engaged, supposed he might be an up-and-coming Indy car driver. Ryan is a fitness buff, true, but that's where his connection to sports probably ends. Only their male colleague, John Korsgaden of Visalia, got it right: "He's a politician from Wisconsin -- a congressman, I think. A Democrat, and kind of a has-been."

Well, half right.

Ryan Lucker, who was selling produce, thought Paul Ryan sounded like a pop singer from the 1950s or '60s. "No one too huge," he said. "Not like an Elvis or anything."

No, not like Elvis. People noticed when he left the building. Vice presidents? Not so much. Maybe Paul Ryan will be different than the No. 2s of the past. Between now and November, at least, he'll almost certainly have to be.

Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at rprice@bakersfield.com.

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