FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- If Paul Ryan hadn't been available to be Mitt Romney's running mate, Ryan's mother, Betty Douglas, could have been a solid second choice.
Douglas, a 78-year-old energetic blonde, stopped by her local Romney-Ryan headquarters here Monday night to ceremoniously make the campaign's 9 millionth voter contact in the state of Florida. The office sent out word to local volunteers before she arrived, and they packed the 1,000-square-foot office for a glimpse. When Douglas, a snowbird who lives seasonally in the nearby town of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, got to the second-floor office space just five blocks from the ocean, she had to press her way through the crowd, which had spilled out into the hallway.
Douglas has proven herself to be masterful at retail politics--it seems to run in the family. On Monday, she appeared to feed off the crowd's energy, pausing to glad hand with people who stopped her for pictures and even autographs. Walking into the room where she made the voter call, Douglas squeezed past an elderly man standing in the doorway. "Shall we do a dance?" she said to the man as she slid by him. "You have a winning smile, sir," she told a grinning man who extended his hand to her. "I love your son!" another volunteer said. "You know what?" Douglas replied, "I do too!" To a woman who told her she was praying for her son, Douglas responded: "That's what we need, a prayer shield." When asked if she was proud of her son, Douglas said, "If he keeps doing his homework, then yes!"
The Romney campaign has utilized Douglas' talents since the first week Ryan was on the Republican ticket. On his first trip to Florida as vice presidential candidate in August, Ryan appeared with his mother during a rally at The Villages, a retirement community near Orlando and a GOP stronghold, where he incorporated her life story into his stump speech. The campaign quickly discovered she had a knack for pleasing crowds (and also appeared to enjoy it), and she still gets called on from time to time to stump for her son and his running mate.
Douglas' role in her son's political career goes back to his first run for Congress when he was just in his 20s. She used to drive him around his Wisconsin district during that first campaign, and she helped schedule his appointments and public appearances. She knows the game. And she's good at it.
Once in the call room in the back of the office, Douglas, surrounded by volunteers and local television crews, sat down at a table with a phone and a row of signs that read "Moms for Mitt." Ryan's sister, Janet Ryan Rock, stood nearby. The first phone call Douglas made landed on an answering machine. She hung up and tried the next number on the list. On the other end of the line, a woman picked up. "Hello, Joyce, Joyce Anderson?" Douglas said. The woman (presumably) asked who was calling. "My name is Betty Douglas, and I am Paul Ryan's mother." There was a pause. "Paul Ryan's mother. He's running for the vice presidency." She went on: "I am calling you from our victory office here in Fort Lauderdale, and you are the lucky person to be the 9 millionth voter contact in Florida."
Once she secured the support from Anderson, the crowd erupted in a cheer and reporters began asking questions about how Ryan will perform at Thursday's vice presidential debate. Douglas seemed happy to answer.
"I think he's going to do very, very well," she said. "Because he's not afraid to confront and he does do his homework."
And Vice President Joe Biden?
"I think maybe it's best I not say anything."