Ryan lets his inner wonk flag fly

Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., speaks during a rally at Piedmont Precision Machine Company in Danville, Va., Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012.
AP Photo/Steve Helber

(CBS News) ORLANDO, Fla. - Let Paul be Paul.

The phrase, common among staffers on Paul Ryan's campaign, is parlance for permitting the seven-term Wisconsin congressman to embrace his inner wonk, the side of his personality that led him to become the youngest House Budget Committee chairman in a decade as well as an intellectual force in his party.

And in recent days, as the GOP vice presidential candidate has settled into his role on the Republican ticket, he has delved distinctly more often into policy details. This is from a politician who told Fox News' Brit Hume, "I don't want to get wonky on you," not long after his selection was announced.

It came to a head on Saturday, when he stepped to the podium for a town hall at the University of Central Florida. In addition to a debt clock -- now a must-have prop at Republican political rallies -- Ryan was flanked by two large screens that projected a favorite tool of academics and businessmen: a PowerPoint presentation.

"I'm kind of a PowerPoint guy, so I hope you'll bear with me," Ryan told the audience as he began clicking through four slides, which showed graphs depicting U.S. debt held by the public from 1940 to present, debt per person in the United States, percentage of debt held by foreign countries and a breakdown of federal spending. He then launched into a 10-minute monologue on the federal debt, throwing around terms such as "Congressional Budget Office" and "Treasury bills" to illustrate his point.

"It's simply another tool to highlight President Obama's failed leadership," said his spokesman, Michael Steel, of the new addition to Ryan's stump speech.

Talking more about the debt will almost certainly invite further criticism from Democrats, who often point out that Ryan helped vote for policies that exploded the debt during the last decade, including the Bush-era tax cuts and the war in Iraq.

"Congressman Ryan said that politicians in Washington are responsible for the nation's debt. And he should know - he's one of them," said Obama spokesman Danny Kanner after one of Ryan's town halls in Dover, N.H., last week. "But Mitt Romney and Congressman Ryan refuse to ask for a dime from the wealthiest Americans to reduce the deficit."

Dealing in harder facts and figures also may help Ryan rebut the charges of inaccuracy that have plagued some of his more vague rhetoric, such as his suggestion in his convention speech that Obama was responsible for the closure of a GM plant in Janesville that fact-checkers found was effectively shut down in December 2008 while George W. Bush was still president.

There are other signs of Ryan's penchant for policy discussion bubbling to the surface after his weeks on the campaign trail, where attack-dog rhetoric is perceived as packing more of a punch than a discussion of CBO baselines.

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.