Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan greets his wife Janna and daughter Liza during a homecoming …
After her husband, newly named Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, introduced her to the country on Saturday, Janna Ryan smiled broadly and waved, but turned down a chance to speak to the crowd.
"You sure?" GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney asked as she politely refused to take the microphone he held out to her after the rally.
It's easy to assume that she must be new to the scene, but Janna Ryan has simply managed to stay out of the spotlight until now. As the wife of a congressman, she knows that everything from her dresses (department store bargains) to her home (eight bathrooms) will be under the microscope, and she's no stranger to politics: A former Washington insider turned stay-at-home-mom, she grew up Madill, Oklahoma, the daughter of two lawyers in a politically active family with deep Democratic connections.
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"She came from a small town, and we had big ideas of going to Washington and making a difference," Shannon Henderson, a friend who worked with her in Washington, told Reuters.
Janna Ryan's grandfather, rancher and lawyer Reuel W. Little, helped found the American Party in support of segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace's bid for president in 1968, and was that party's candidate for governor of Oklahoma in 1970. Her uncle David Boren is the former Democratic governor of Oklahoma who went on to serve in the Senate, and her first cousin, Dan Boren, currently represents Oklahoma as a Democrat in the House of Representatives.
"Janna and I grew up together and I couldn't be more proud of my cousin," Dan Boren said in a statement "Like my late mother after whom she is named, Janna is a wonderful parent to their children and will be Paul's strongest supporter on the campaign trail."
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After graduating from Wellesley College in Massachusetts with a degree in Spanish, Janna Ryan -- then known as Janna Little -- worked as a legislative aid to Oklahoma Democratic Representative Bill Brewster, a co-founder the Blue Dog Coalition (a fiscally conservative branch of the Democratic party). She focused on transportation and healthcare issues by day and earned her law degree at George Washington University at night, graduating in 1998.
"She is very comfortable in and around politics. She grew up in a political family, and it comes very naturally to her," Leslie Belcher, a Washington lobbyist who worked on Capitol Hill with Janna Ryan and was one of her bridesmaids, told Reuters.
After earning her law degree, she worked in Washington as a tax attorney and lobbyist for PricewaterhouseCoopers and Williams & Jensen; according to Opensecrets.org, her clients included Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the Cigar Association of America, the United Parcel Service, and the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists, among others. A mutual friend introduced her to Ryan, who had just started his first term in Congress, in 1999. The couple married in 2000, and she left Capitol Hill to settle down in her new husband's hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, where she's spent the last decade or so raising their three kids -- Liza, 10, Charlie, 8, and Sam, 7 -- in a "Civil War-era home with six bedrooms and eight bathrooms," according to The Daily Beast.
"They got married eyes wide open, knowing that they wanted to dedicate themselves to public service, and that meant that Janna wouldn't work, and Paul would dedicate himself" to politics, Jodi Bond, a vice president of the Chamber of Commerce who has been friends with the Ryans for decades, told Reuters.
While volunteer work is an extremely valuable public service, that doesn't mean a political career isn't in the cards; Nancy Pelosi, for example, was a stay-at-home mom until the youngest of her five children was a senior in high school, Pelosi told Yahoo! Shine in an interview. But for now, Janna Ryan seems happy enough to simply support her husband's vice presidential bid.
"You know, he's pretty low-maintenance. Paul is someone who goes with the flow and has one of the sunniest demeanors and most positive outlooks of anyone I've ever met," she told People Magazine on Monday. "I'd say Mitt'll probably have a lot of fun with him."
She has a reputation for being warm, friendly, and down-to-earth (she was photographed over the weekend campaigning in a $70 Dana Buchaman dress, on sale for $35 at Kohl's), and voters can expect Janna Ryan to underscore her husband's old-fashioned, family-man appeal.
"She's a very soft spoken, elegant and ladylike. Very family-oriented. Always with her kids, always here picking up food for her family," Edmund Halabi, owner of the Italian House frequented by the Ryan family, told POLITICO on Sunday. "Just warm, easygoing, not upfront in the public arena. You can see her on the TV; she really stays back and doesn't attract much attention to herself. Just an amazing ladylike figure."
Since her children are still young -- just 10, 8, and 7 -- it's unlikely that her stay-at-home status will spark another round of the Mommy Wars, and the fact that she worked outside the home but chose her family over her career may appeal to a generation of female voters struggling with similar choices. There's no sign yet of what kind of causes she would champion if the Romney/Ryan ticket wins the White House but, until then, the entire Ryan family seems prepared to be in the spotlight.
"We've dedicated much of our lives to saving this country, to public service. I had planned a different path for my life when I was younger. And I felt a calling to public service," Paul Ryan told Bob Schieffer Sunday on "60 Minutes." "And Jan and I, my wife and I, discussed this at great length. It is going to change our life, but we really think that this is a moment in the country that needs leadership. And we really think that we can make a big difference and get our country back on track."
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