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Of all the major candidates up for election Tuesday, Paul Ryan was the only one who really couldn't lose either way.

If he won, he'd be a heartbeat behind Mitt Romney in the White House — establishing a strong vice presidency he said would be modeled after former Vice President Dick Cheney.

If he lost his vice presidential quest, the 42-year-old Republican congressman from Wisconsin had a backup plan: his current job.

Ryan appeared on his hometown ballot twice: once on the national ticket and again for re-election to Congress. He's won that seat handily seven times before; in 2010, he won re-election by 38 percentage points.

Ryan won re-election to the seat representing southeastern Wisconsin by a comfortable margin ahead of Democratic businessmen Rob Zerban. But it was a hollow victory, as he and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney lost their bid for the White House.

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Despite the loss, his popularity among Republicans would make him a formidable presidential contender in 2016 or 2020.

Ryan "has a lot of knowledge," said Joyce Stelter, 82, who voted for President Obama in Jefferson, Wis. "In several years he might be a contender. ... He's got the juice to do it."

Jim Dostalek, 71, voted for Romney in Fort Atkinson, Wis. "I like Paul Ryan," he said. "Young blood."

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Ryan's pick as the GOP running mate two and a half weeks before the convention gave Romney an instant energy boost, particularly among conservatives who had previously been skeptical of the Republican nominee.

Famous for his grueling workouts and command of budget numbers, Ryan was a fresh face on a Republican scene that had been dominated by the likes of former House speaker Newt Gingrich. He also added policy heft to a campaign that had been criticized for failing to provide details about its proposals.

On the campaign trail, Ryan's power-point presentations quickly became a staple of his town hall-style rallies.

But Ryan also came with ideological baggage for a Republican nominee trying to move toward the center.

His budget plan would overhaul Medicare by providing premium support of private plans in lieu of fee-for-service for future retirees; it provided Democrats a cudgel to argue that a Romney/Ryan administration would be bad for seniors.

In the later days of the campaign, Ryan took a lower profile, content to have the attention on his running mate. But he was still a man in a hurry: Confronted with a line of 30 people ahead of him at his Janesville, Wis., polling place Tuesday, he cut to the front of the line.

He then took off for one last whirlwind day of campaigning. He joined Romney in Richland Heights, Ohio, where they dropped in on volunteer workers at a strip-mall campaign office.

"This is a great day. This is a day where we work hard, where we get our country back on track," he told them.

Then he and Romney went around the corner to a Wendy's. (Ryan, the No. 2 on the ticket, ordered the No. 1 combo. Romney paid.)

He arrived in Boston on Tuesday evening, watching the returns with his family from his hotel room before reuniting with Romney at an election party across town.

Contributing: Judy Keen in Wisconsin, The Associated Press

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