Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan file photo

During an April visit to Milwaukee, Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney appeared with House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, a possible vice presidential running mate.

STEVEN SENNE - Associated Press

For the most part, Paul Ryan is thought of as the more conservative half of the GOP presidential ticket. But in Romney’s attempt to prove he is sufficiently reactionary to be the GOP standard-bearer, he has in fact staked out positions to the right of Ryan.

Ryan, for instance, has supported policies that have earned him approval from Wisconsin labor unions.

Unlike most conservatives, the Janesville congressman has consistently supported the preservation of the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires contractors on federal projects to pay their workers the “prevailing wage” of the area, as determined by a number of factors.

His support for Davis-Bacon is why the state chapter of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), which largely represents heavy equipment operators, has consistently supported him in congressional races.

Some progressive commentators linked Ryan’s support for Davis-Bacon to his family’s Janesville construction business, Ryan Incorporated Central, a union company that employs dozens of IUOE members. If Davis-Bacon were repealed, the company would likely be underbid on many federal contracts from non-union firms that pay workers less.

However, at an event hosted earlier this year by the Associated Builders & Contractors, the national lobbying group for construction contractors, Mitt Romney declared his opposition to Davis-Bacon, calling the law an “unfair advantage for union bosses.”

On "day one, I will end the government’s favoritism towards unions on contracting on federal projects,” he said. “And I will fight to repeal Davis-Bacon.”

Terry McGowan, the business manager for IOUE Local 139, one of the few unions that endorsed Gov. Scott Walker in 2010, says such statements from Romney make the GOP candidate unsupportable.

“We parted right there,” he says, describing his reaction to Romney’s speech to the ABC. “Why would anybody declare war on the hardworking trades people of this country?”

Romney followed up by promising to fight for “right to work” laws, which prohibit contracts between employers and unions that require employees to be union members or to pay union dues.

Unlike many other stalwart conservatives, Ryan is not a co-sponsor of the several right-to-work and other anti-union bills floating around Congress at the moment.

"While Governor Romney would sign a national bill if it was presented to him, a Romney-Ryan administration would encourage states to adopt their own right-to-work laws," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan's vice presidential campaign, when I sought comment on the congressman's position on the issue.

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Ryan also recently took a more progressive position on gay rights than Romney did when he voted in 2007 for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would bar discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace (Wisconsin became the first state to pass such a law in 1982).

Although Ryan earned accolades from the Log Cabin Republicans (a group of gay Republicans) for taking the vote, other LGBT rights supporters pointed out that Ryan had earlier voted with most other Republicans to prevent the bill from being voted on.

But Ryan, who opposed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell -- the military's policy on gay service members -- and supported a constitutional amendment barring gay marriage, at least eventually voted the right way on ENDA, they conceded.

In contrast, Romney, who said during his 1994 U.S. Senate race that he would be a co-sponsor of ENDA, has since reversed his position entirely, saying in a 2006 interview that he believed the bill would “open a floodgate of litigation and unfairly penalize employers.”

Huffington Post columnist Michelangelo Signorile thus summarized Ryan’s position on gay rights as “to the right of Earlier Mitt Romney” and “to the left of Current Mitt Romney.”

Jack Craver is the Capital Times political reporter, focusing on elections, candidates and campaign finance.