Cautious Mitt Romney rolled the dice Saturday with the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his vice-presidential running mate. Ryan will energize a conservative base that has been slow to warm to Romney, but Democrats were elated by the choice as well. There was no one on Romney’s short list of contenders they wanted to run against more than the chairman of the House Budget Committee.
The selection of Ryan, the architect of a sweeping and controversial budget blueprint, signals that Romney may now believe that relying on the economy’s weakness alone will not be enough to defeat President Obama, particularly with new polls showing the president leading after months in which he and Romney were in a statistical dead heat.
The 42-year-old Wisconsin Republican is the chairman of the House Budget Committee.
If Mitt Romney wins the White House in November, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin will join a long line of U.S. vice presidents who came to the office after spending time at the other end of Congress.
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Find out more on the chairman of the House Budget Committee, first elected to Congress from Wisconsin at the age of 28.
Ryan’s addition to the ticket shows that Romney is prepared to run a more robust campaign with a sharper message built around tax and spending cuts, deficit reduction and entitlement reform. That is exactly what a growing chorus of Republicans, nervous about the direction of the Romney campaign, has been urging.
A Romney-Ryan ticket will help to clarify the choices for voters in November. Rarely have the two parties presented such a stark contrast in visions as now appears to be the case. Those competing visions could produce, after a summer of often small-minded tactics, the kind of big debate about the country’s future that both Obama and Romney have said this campaign should be about.
Such a debate will generate as much heat as light, however, which is the risk that comes with putting Ryan on the ticket. Romney has now assumed ownership of Ryan’s budgetary plan and its provisions for reining in the cost of entitlement programs. Democrats will attack it and its author as vigorously as they have tried to savage Romney’s business background and personal finances.
Ryan’s proposed changes to Medicare—he would partially privatize the program—will become the principal focus of those Democratic attacks. A new survey conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 58 percent of Americans want Medicare left alone. The poll, which examines in detail the internal divisions in both parties, found that only one of five Republican groups—those who most strongly support the tea party movement—favor something like the changes Ryan has advocated.
That underscores the risk that goes along with selecting Ryan. But the congressman from Janesville, Wisc., brings clear attributes to the campaign ahead. Romney may be the presumptive Republican nominee but Ryan is the intellectual leader of congressional Republicans and to a great extent the party as a whole. He is from the party’s young and rising generation, which has a surer sense of the party’s new identity than Romney.
One sign of the degree to which conservatives look to Ryan came in the days leading to the announcement. Ryan’s candidacy was promoted by major elements of the conservative opinion makers, including the Wall Street Journal editorial page, the Weekly Standard and the editor of National Review. They will now get behind Romney’s candidacy with more enthusiasm than they’ve shown in the past.