Mitt Romney moved a partisan split over budget cuts and government’s size front and center in the presidential race by selecting Paul Ryan as his running mate, choosing a lawmaker seen by Republicans as a policy visionary and by Democrats as a fiscal extremist.
Along with energizing his base, Romney’s vice presidential decision shifts a campaign he has sought to frame as a referendum on President Barack Obama’s economic record into a contest between two radically different visions of government’s role. The former Massachusetts governor’s pairing with Ryan, the fresh-faced Wisconsin congressman who is the architect of Republican congressional budget plans, sharpens the ticket’s contrast with Obama and promises a lively debate on whether and how to curb spending and overhaul U.S. entitlements, particularly Medicare.
“You could not have a better contrast than this, so we’re going to offer to you, our fellow citizens, a choice,” Ryan told voters today at the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, North Carolina. “Do you want the American idea -- that opportunity society with a safety net?” Ryan asked. “Or do we go with the status quo? Do we go with a debt crisis, a welfare state, a nation in decline?”
With Ryan’s selection, Romney’s campaign faced questions about how thoroughly to embrace his budget blueprint -- including its proposed Medicare overhaul -- at a time when the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is trying to reach out to independent voters and disillusioned Democrats. A top aide said today that it was Ryan who would be following Romney’s lead -- not the other way around.
“The thing you have to remember about these campaigns is that Governor Romney is at the top of the ticket, and that the governor’s vision for the country is something that Congressman Ryan supports,” Romney adviser Kevin Madden said.
Romney has endorsed Ryan’s budget and talked generally about a fiscal plan that shares much in common with it, including slashing federal spending by $500 billion by 2016 and Medicare changes that would allow seniors a choice of staying in the traditional program or using subsidies to buy private insurance. Romney, though, hasn’t provided specifics about what government spending he would cut or how he would finance individual and corporate tax cuts amounting to $5 trillion over a decade.
Thousands of cheering voters waving American flags and newly printed “Romney Ryan” campaign signs greeted the pair as they toured North Carolina by bus today, while on television talk programs political partisans dueled to define the ticket.
Obama’s campaign strategist David Axelrod, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” branded Ryan a “right-wing ideologue” who wants to “lavish” the wealthy with tax cuts while cutting spending on programs that help the middle class, students and senior citizens.
“He wants trillions of dollars of more budget-busting tax cuts skewed to the wealthy,” Axelrod said during an appearance on the NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “This is a prescription for economic catastrophe.”
Republicans countered that Ryan was a bold choice who would animate Romney’s bid and clarify his message.
The pick “demonstrates that Governor Romney is very serious about doing big things for this country, and wants this campaign to be about big things and a discussion about the future of the country,” Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Ryan represents “everything conservatives had hoped for, in terms of a real contrast as we head into this fall campaign,” Thune said.
Romney, 65, announced Ryan, 42, as his running mate yesterday at a rally in Norfolk, Virginia, and made stops with him on a bus tour elsewhere in the state and then today in North Carolina. The pair is to appear together at a rally this evening in Waukesha, Wisconsin, before Romney departs for Florida and Ohio for two more days of a bus tour while Ryan heads to the Iowa state fair.
Romney at their Mooresville stop sought to combat the criticisms of Ryan as an extremist, describing him to voters as someone who has set himself apart in Washington by working with Democrats.
“Instead of throwing brickbats, and attacking and demonizing other people, he recognized that honest people could have honest differences, and so he worked with them and convinced them,” Romney said of Ryan, whose House-passed budget didn’t receive a single Democratic vote.
Ryan, a seven-term congressman, has led the charge among Republicans for spending cuts and the Medicare overhaul that would shift the program from one in which the government pays for seniors’ care to one in which it gives beneficiaries subsidies to buy private insurance. He has also collaborated with Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, on adding an option for the elderly to stay in the traditional program.
Three times in two days, Romney has praised Ryan for his work with Wyden. “He has a plan, for instance, for Medicare, to make sure we can save Medicare. And guess what -- he’s one of the two co-sponsors, the other’s a leading Democrat. He found ways to bring people together to do good things,” he said at the Absolute Style furniture warehouse in High Point, North Carolina.
The selection of Ryan, a budget and policy expert with a penchant for drawing charts to drive home key points, has the potential to transform the presidential campaign -- dominated of late by attack ads and petty taunts -- into a more substance-driven race. It also answers calls from Republicans for Romney to dispense with the cautious approach that has marked his candidacy, by going beyond criticizing Obama’s economic record and fleshing out his own.
Vice President Joe Biden called Ryan yesterday to congratulate him and “welcome him to the race,” an Obama campaign official said. At about the same time, the president’s campaign released an advertisement attacking the congressman’s budget plan.
“Paul Ryan is the mastermind behind the extreme G.O.P. budget plan,” the spot says, as video shows Ryan describing his proposal as about “rewriting the health-care system, Medicare, Social Security, our entire tax system.”
The ad then shows Romney saying, “I think it’d be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and to adopt it.”