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Asked why Ryan appeared to have soft-pedalled his Irish heritage, Mike Steel, a Romney campaign official said in an email to Reuters: “He did address his family’s Irish immigrant roots at a rally in his hometown of Janesville, WI. He told a joke about his ancestors arriving in Janesville and saying “It looks just like Ireland … and then the winter came.”
While visiting an ancestral home in Ireland remains a rite of passage for U.S. presidents, with the last five claiming ties there, the power of the Irish vote has faded since it helped lift John F. Kennedy to the presidency in 1960.
Kennedy’s victory set up a triumphant homecoming three years later to a town 20 miles (32 km) from Graiguenamanagh.
The focus for U.S. political strategists nowadays has shifted to the wider Catholic community, which votes more as a block than the traditionally Democratic Irish, whose priorities have diverged as they integrated into American society.
But pockets of Irish Americans in the key swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania could still play an important role.
“The Irish Catholic vote went for (Democrat) Bill Clinton. It went narrowly for (Republican John) McCain over Obama. I’d say on this occasion it will be 50-50,” said Niall O’Dowd, publisher of the U.S. newspaper The Irish Voice.
“It’s a vote that tends to be a bellwether vote. If it swung decisively behind Obama, it would certainly mean that he would win the election,” O’Dowd said.
Romney’s choice of Ryan, just like Obama’s choice of Biden, was clearly influenced by targeting white Catholics, he said.