When CNN's Peter Hamby tweeted earlier this month that Rep. Paul Ryan told Milwaukee magazine he once had a black girlfriend, that biographical tidbit piece was sure to draw notice. Whenever a sensitive issue like race comes up around the vice presidential candidate from a party that's been criticized for its policies toward African-Americans, there will certainly be a passionate discussion. All the more so when Ryan and Mitt Romney's opponent is the first black president in American history.
"I have a sister-in-law who's African-American. My college sweetheart was black," Ryan said, according to Hamby's tweet. The Examiner reports that Milwaukee magazine's online archive regarding Ryan only dates back to 2006 and the full context of his 2005 interview is not available on the website.
Since this information came out, pundits have wondered how, if at all, it will affect the number of people who vote for Romney-Ryan later this year. It wasn't long ago that Romney was booed after criticizing President Barack Obama during a speech to the NAACP. Some would say it's hard to imagine any racist voters who might have a problem with Ryan's previous relationship (his wife is white) showing up at the polls and casting a vote for a black president.
Earlier this week ChicagoNow.com published a column by John Chatz, a white man married to a black woman, who wrote that he had run for political office without worrying about his interracial relationship's effect on his electability.
"Ryan is now placing himself way beyond the 'I have black friends' category and entering a world where few would dare to tread," Chatz wrote. "It's as if Mitt Romney wanted to select Condoleezza Rice as his running mate, but instead opted for the white male equivalent."
"Dating a person of a different race really shouldn't change the way a person is viewed or perceived - in a normal everyday setting - but for a Republican candidate for vice president, it could make enough of a difference to change the outcome," Chatz continued. "We'll soon see."
News of Ryan's interracial relationship might remind some of the recent revelations of Obama's own premarital dating history. The Daily Mail reported that in his memoir "Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" Obama only passingly mentioned dating white women during his college years. But in a recent Obama biography, former girlfriend Genevieve Cook said she spent the night with Obama after meeting him at a Brooklyn party, and they bonded over being children of divorced parents.
The new biography asserts that the president tried to downplay his relationships in an effort to shift attention to his racial trailblazer image. The inconsistency between Obama's "Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance" and the new biography, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Maraniss, is one that the Republicans have been eager to highlight.
In his own book, Obama portrays himself as a mixed-race child who has fought to earn "black credibility" among other African-Americans. The Maraniss book accuses Obama of downplaying the amount of influence white people had on his life.