WESTLAKE, Ohio -- Paul Ryan wants to win this election "so darn bad" he told Pennsylvania Republicans here this morning, that "he's willing to do this."
And then the House Speaker and rabid Packers fan twirled a gold Terrible Towel over his head.
(Moments earlier, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster had introduced Ryan by comparing him to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger: "sometimes he gets hit so hard, you've got to examine his head.")
Ryan, the wonky leader who has made an awkward ally for presidential nominee Donald Trump, gave Pennsylvanians a big-name launch to their week here at the Republican National Convention. He hardly mentioned Trump by name in his 15-minute remarks -- he spent much more time talking about Vice Presidential pick Mike Pence -- but Ryan urged Pennsylvanians to help the GOP win.
"This is a binary choice: it is Trump, or Clinton, that's your choice," Ryan said. Earlier, he told the breakfast crowd, "you could make the decision on this -- you could decide this whole thing, Pennsylvania."
You might expect him to say that to a Pennsylvania breakfast, but consider his actions: one of the two most powerful Republicans in the country chose the commonwealth for a key morning stop on the convention's first day.
Rob Gleason, the GOP state chairman, he has spoken several times with Trump, and "we agreed -- the path to victory runs right through the Keystone State."
Trump has shown immense appeal with working-class white voters, leading many to believe he can turn Pennsylvania red for the first time since 1988.
If so, he'll win the presidency, Gleason said. He added that the state's 13-member GOP congressional delegation is the fourth largest in the House, giving Pennsylvania the kind of clout to attract Ryan. Of course, only six of those congressman are expected to be here, and Sen. Pat Toomey is also staying back in Pennsylvania. (More on that below).
Terry Madonna, the Franklin & Marshall pollster who has been coming to conventions for decades, said he can't ever remember so many local lawmakers avoiding the event. Ryan and Gleason both spent time talking about safety and security -- the featured topic of tonight's speeches, and one that has vaulted back into the headlines with terror attacks abroad and simmering racial tensions domestically.
It's also an issue that Toomey, who normally focuses on fiscal issues, has relentlessly touted in his race. The economy is always important in Pennsylvania, Gleason said, but security has risen to the forefront as another issue that cuts across the whole state. Recent polls show a potentially close Clinton-Trump contest in Pennsylvania, but Madonna said it's too early to say if the state will really be in play.
"We'll have a better sense of the general election in the middle of August," he said. "The race will settle in."
Sight and Sounds
-- Someone on the left is having some fun at Republicans' expense. Greeting everyone arriving at the Cleveland airport was an ad featuring Ronald Reagan and a quote about the importance of Congress confirming Supreme Court judges. (It wasn't quite as big as the Cleveland Cavaliers championship sign, though).
-- Ryan spent a good portion of his speech talking in depth about the way regulations are written and how they should be reformed. Just a bit of a contrast between the most powerful Republican in Washington and the party's presidential nominee.
-- As The Hill's Reid Wilson put it, the 2020 race is already underway. Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and Joni Ernst, along with governors John Kasich, of Ohio, and Scott Walker, of Wisconsin, all plan to speak to the New Hampshire delegation.
-- About that coming together for Republicans here in Cleveland? Trump's top campaign aide, Paul Manafort, told MSNBC this morning that Kasich is "embarrassing his state" by refusing to participate in formal convention events. The Ohio governor is out and about around Cleveland, but doesn't plan to be in the actual convention hall.
-- Manafort had more sharp words for those skipping the convention: "Most the Republicans who aren't coming are people who have been part of the past. People who are part of the future of the Republican party are frankly going to be here and going to participate in the program."
-- Trump's charitable donations have been questioned by reporters, but Chris Christie defended him today while speaking to Michigan Republicans, per the Inquirer's Maddie Hanna. The New Jersey governor said his wife, Mary Pat, made Trump one of her first calls when raising money after Hurricane Sandy. "He said, 'Mary Pat, I like Chris, but I'm scared of you. ... How much does the check need to be? Just tell me and I'll send it.'"
What to watch tonight
-- No former presidents? No former nominees? No problem - Donald Trump has called in Scott Baio and stars from Duck Dynasty and General Hospital. All three are among the speakers slated to talk to the Republican faithful tonight. So is Trump's wife, Melania. But will the nominee make a surprise appearance? He hinted he might, according to Politico.
-- You didn't think the Benghazi flap was over, did you? -- Not if Trump has anything to say about it. The speakers tonight include the mother of a man killed in the assault on the American consulate there, and two Marine veterans who fought in the battle.
Clinton sees national security as one of her strengths. Pro-Clinton TV ads contrast her work as secretary of state with Trump's comment that he learns about foreign affairs by watching the news on television. But Republicans think they can undercut that message, and they'll start tonight.
-- A Rising GOP Star - For all the focus on how many Republicans have skipped the convention, the event still provides a national platform for those helping to build their name. (See Obama, Barack in 2004).
One potential star to watch tonight is Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. The freshman senator, 39, is an Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and boasts a law degree from Harvard. He has quickly carved out a role as a national security hawk, and leapt into the headlines last year by leading a letter to Iranian leaders seeking to undercut international negotiations over a nuclear arms deal. He'll be one of the evening's featured speakers.
-- How big are the stakes in this year's election? Well, it's only that every branch of government that's effectively up for grabs amid widespread economic anxiety, roiling tension over policing and the murder of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and international upheaval in places like England and Turkey. Tom Fitzgerald breaks down just how much is on the line.
-- Tim Tebow isn't the only big name who decided to stay away from the event. So did former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, past GOP nominees Mitt Romney and John McCain and a huge share of the GOP Congressional delegation -- including nearly every one from the Philly area. Here' s my breakdown this morning on why many Republicans are staying away from the big show. And here's a list of which Republicans from the region have endorsed Trump, and what they have to say about him.
-- A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows might explain why many have avoided Cleveland: only 38 percent of Republican voters said they are satisfied with Trump as their nominee. The poll found Clinton leading Trump nationally by 5 percentage points.
-- Trump has tried to add star power -- but the New York Times reports GOP leaders had to talk him out of inviting boxing promoter Don King, due to King once stomping a man to death and being convicted of manslaughter.
-- What's next for Chris Christie? The New Jersey guv staked much of his reputation on landing a slot on the Trump ticket. But now that he's been passed over, where does he go? Hanna has the story.
-- What does Trump read? Mostly print outs of news articles about himself, the Washington Post reports. He told the Post he doesn't have much time for reading: "I never have. I'm always busy doing a lot. Now I'm more busy, I guess, than ever before."