LAKEWOOD, Colo.— A capacity crowd of over 2,000 packed a high-school gym here Tuesday for vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan’s first appearance in the swing state, the room dotted with toddler-toting moms and senior citizens.

Introduced by a Lakewood High School senior and Romney volunteer just weeks too young to vote for him— the crowd replied loudly, “Awwww.”— Ryan touted his connection to the Rocky Mountain state, saying he had been planning to be in Colorado this week anyway, “for family vacation.”

“I’ve been climbing 14ers for 20 years in this great state,” he said— a reference to Colorado’s 53 14,000-foot peaks, which avid climbers collect like merit badges.

A change of plans has him traveling his family’s vacation spot for a different reason this summer, and the crowd was happy to have him. The mere mention of a Ryan-Biden debate by state senate candidate Lang Sias got them stomping their feet in the bleachers— a move usually reserved for intense basketball games.

“Mark your calendars for Oct. 11,” Sias said. “No, it’s not a Broncos game, but you will see a lot of defenses shredded because that’s day (Ryan & Biden) debate.”

Ryan is clearly happy on the stump, and dealt with no hecklers at the Colorado event, as he had at an Iowa event earlier in the week. The only yelling from the stands this time around was supportive.

“Look! No TelePrompter,” one audience member yelled during a pause. Ryan chuckled and happily repeated the joke for the benefit of the rest of the audience.

Ryan started his speech with a concession that President Obama inherited a bad situation, “But here’s the problem…”

Another face in the crowd finished his thought: “He made it worse!”

The concession was one of several moments in his speech that belie the extreme cartoon of him drawn by the left. The phrase “environmentally sensitive,” not generally recognized as red meat, is a complement to his raucous call to increase oil and natural gas production at home. He mentions an “all of the above” strategy on energy, name checking wind and solar, before promising a Romney administration would okay Keystone, to huge applause. That was the second-biggest applause line of the day.

The first? “We’ve got to stop spending money we don’t have!”

To be sure, Ryan hammered Obama, saying “he can’t run on his record,” so all that’s left is demagoguing.

“(President Obama) promised to cut the deficit in half in four years,” Ryan said incredulously, to audience laughter. “I rest my case.”

But Ryan also made a positive appeal to Americans’ aspirational spirit, which he claims Obama is intent on discouraging. He chided the president for acting as if Americans are creatures without agency, acted upon by forces they can’t control, capable only of being delivered by the benevolent hand of federal government.

“When I was growing up, flipping burgers at McDonald’s or…washing dishes, I never felt like I was stuck in some station in life,” Ryan said. “I thought to myself: I’m the American dream.”

That sentence was missing from the campaign before Romney added Ryan to the ticket. Romney is a model of success whose success story sometimes hampers him. Ryan’s version, sunny smile and a bit of working-class grit, unabashedly says that what makes this country great is that it encourages us to be great, not with stimulus money or taxes, but with freedom.

Ryan’s story puts the credit for American success where it belongs. We are people, working hard for ourselves and our families, not a mere collection of government programs and infrastructure projects in which the greatest height an individual can reach is filing ever-larger 1040s.

“The reception was unbelievable,” said Joe Coors, who is running for Congress against Rep. Ed Perlmutter in Colorado’s 7th Congressional District. “What I take from this, as a candidate and an American, is they’re ready for someone getting back to the basics of what makes this country great.”