Irish Eyes Aren’t Really Smiling on Paul Ryan

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U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks during the vice presidential debate at Centre College October 11, 2012 in Danville, Kentucky.

Apparently Paul Ryan does not have the luck of the Irish when it comes to currying favor in his ancestral homeland. According to a report by Reuters, the Republican vice presidential candidate has little public support in the Kilkenny County town of Graiguenamanagh, the old stomping grounds of his great-great grandparents.

Even with his Irish name and Roman Catholic faith, Ryan reportedly has been unable to convince the Emerald Isle’s Obama supporters to jump ship.

“He doesn’t have the charisma, he hasn’t connected with the people,” Pat Nolan, a 62-year-old Graiguenamanagh native, told Reuters about Ryan.  “It doesn’t matter what his name is, it’s Obama that has made the effort.”

Indeed, Obama’s visit to Ireland last year made headlines—particularly, as CBS News notes, when he stopped for a pint in Moneygall, the birthplace of his maternal great-great-great-grandfather. A U.S. Department of State article on “President Obama’s Irish Connections” mentions that the President is likely just 3.1 percent Irish, but he has been largely embraced by a population that jokingly adds an honorary apostrophe to his name to make it “O’Bama.”

A Gallup International poll from September found that 96 percent of respondents in Ireland said that, if eligible to participate, they would vote for Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the 2012 election. (Like Romney’s running mate, Biden too is Roman Catholic, and he traces his roots to County Louth.)

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Paul Ryan’s economic policies perhaps sit poorly with the Irish, as his plans to cut public spending may call to mind the austerity measures imposed in the island after the government’s 2010 bailout from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, Reuters points out.

In the Ryan family’s ancestral homeland, locals aren’t eager to embrace the thought of a Republican win. In a poll of 20 Graiguenamanagh residents, Reuters could not find a single Ryan or Romney supporter. One 64-year-old woman, who is opposed to Ryan’s plans to slash welfare and Medicare for the elderly, told Reuters that although a victory for Ryan might offer a small morale boost to Graiguenamanagh, she “wouldn’t want to inflict him on the American people.”

“He’s too far right-wing for this part of the world,” Martin Brett, a former mayor of County Kilkenny’s capital, said to Reuters.

Perhaps Ryan’s consistent use of Ireland as a model for ruinous economic practice has further hurt his case among the country’s people. Reuters notes that Ryan’s website mentions Ireland eight times as an example of what could befall the United States if it doesn’t tackle the national debt. The site also calls Ireland a rival to the Cayman Islands as a tax haven that poses a threat to American jobs.

Although Ryan has played up his immigrant roots on the campaign stump, Irish famine historian John Kelly wrote in August that Ryan’s economic philosophy is “the very same one that hurt, not helped, his forebears during the famine—and hurt them badly.” Kelly drew an unfavorable comparison between Ryan and Charles Trevelyan, the British official who managed famine relief and devoted himself to eradicating dependence on the government.

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Still, on the domestic front, Ryan could do well by focusing on the broader Catholic community rather than on the typically Democratic bloc of Irish voters, Reuters notes.

During last week’s vice presidential debate, moderator Martha Raddatz asked both Paul Ryan and Joe Biden to address how their mutual Catholic faith informs their views on abortion. This is the first time in history that Democrats and Republicans have both had a Catholic—never mind an Irish Catholic—running for vice president.

The Irish American vote in swing states can, in fact, be influential, the Irish Voice publisher Niall O’Dowd told Reuters.

“It’s a vote that tends to be a bellwether vote,” O’Dowd said to Reuters. “If it swung decisively behind Obama, it would certainly mean that he would win the election.”

If Graiguenamanagh is any indication, Romney’s decision to put Ryan on his ticket has not yet earned him the kind of Irish fondness currently reserved for Obama and Biden.

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