8:55 am Aug. 11, 20121
With the presidential campaign increasingly focused on Mitt Romney's personal negatives, Romney announced Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his pick for vice president on Saturday morning.
Ryan talked of "new leadership to be part of the solution," as he was introduced as Romney's running mate on the decommissioned World War II battleship U.S.S. Wisconsin in Norfolk, Va.
And Ryan said, purposefully, that he believed that Romney was uniquely qualified to be president "because of his personal experience."
Despite his relative youth, the 42-year-old Ryan is considered one of the intellectual heavyweights of the party, mainly for his willingness to propose a comprehensive budget proposal that drastically cuts spending and transitions Medicare to a private voucher system.
A number of influential conservatives had pushed for Ryan as the pick in recent days, in the hopes that his vision could rescue Romney from a small campaign that has yet to focus on substantive issues.
But the pick will delight Democrats too. After Ryan proposed his controversial budget, Democrats were able to capitalize on its proposed privatization of Medicare, a threat that helped Democrat Kathy Hochul win a special election in a heavily Republican district near Buffalo last year. ("Our country needs to move forward, not re-hash failed ideas," Hochul said in a statement on Saturday morning.)
Ryan's proponents argued that Romney's support for Ryan's budget plan would saddle him with the plan's political costs regardless, so there was no real downside in choosing Ryan. That theory will now be put to the test, as the Ryan rollout begins.
As a running mate, Ryan provides a stark contrast to Romney. He's from relatively modest means, the son of an attorney and stay-at-home mom in Janesville, Wisconsin. And, unlike Romney, he's spent the vast majority of his adult life in the public sector, having first been elected to Congress in 1998 at the age of 28.
He is a cheerful Midwesterner, with a strong record on social issues. The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List immediately cheered the pick, calling him a "longtime pro-life advocate" with a "pristine pro-life voting record."
Last month, at an event in New York honoring Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, the conservative benefactor Ken Langone criticized Ryan's tenure in Washington, wondering aloud how Ryan could style himself as a budget hawk after voting for the spending increases under George W. Bush.
"I asked Congressman Ryan, who is now a deficit hawk, where was he those six years when we were spending money like drunk sailors in Washington," said Langone, who founded Home Depot. "He voted for every spending bill that came down the road. I'm suspicious of people that have a newfound faith. We all have come-to-Jesus moments, but ..."
But the conservative base by and large will be delighted with Ryan, who joins the ticket as Romney has been battered by an ad campaign that focused on his activities with Bain Capital, as well as questions about his offshore investments and his unwillingness to release more than two years of tax returns.
In an interview on Thursday, Romney floated the idea a truce between the two campaigns on personal and "business" issues, despite making his business experience a cornerstone of his campaign. If nothing else, Ryan's should ensure a greater focus on substantive contrasts between the parties; Romney will get the issues-based debate he now says he wants, and if it's about entitlement cuts, the Democrats will take it.
For all the chatter about him within the party, voters still don't have much of an opinion about Ryan.