* Choice of congressman aimed at energizing conservatives
* Democrats relish battle over Ryan budget
* Romney kicking off four-state bus tour
By Steve Holland
NORFOLK, Virginia, Aug. 11 Republican
presidential candidate Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin
Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate
could dramatically shift the race for the White House into a
debate between two sharply contrasting views of government
spending and debt and its role in the daily lives of Americans.
In choosing Ryan - a budget hawk whose provocative plan to
reduce government spending has won him fans in the conservative
Tea Party movement and made him a target for Democrats - the
typically cautious Romney on Saturday took the biggest gamble of
his year-long candidacy.
Romney also essentially acknowledged that the core argument
for his campaign - that Democratic President Barack Obama's
stewardship of the economy has failed - may not be enough to
push Romney to victory in the Nov. 6 election.
So he has embarked on a high-risk, high-reward strategy of
aligning himself with Ryan, whose budget plan would cut taxes
and restructure Medicare, the popular government-backed health
insurance program, and other safety-net social programs to try
to inspire investment and rein in runaway government
Democrats say Ryan's plan would amount to draconian cuts in
programs that help protect the nation's most vulnerable people.
Democrats - whose platform focuses on middle-class tax cuts,
higher taxes for the wealthy and a healthcare overhaul that
requires most Americans to buy insurance - already are blasting
Romney for picking Ryan, and vowing to cast Romney as an enemy
of programs that benefit the poor and elderly.
The potency of such an argument by Democrats - particularly
in crucial states such as Florida, which has a large elderly
population - was clear on Saturday.
Shortly after he announced Ryan as his running mate before a
cheering, flag-waving crowd in front of the battleship USS
Wisconsin, Romney's campaign emphasized to reporters that
picking Ryan did not mean that Romney supported his entire
Romney, the campaign said, would be issuing his own fiscal
Romney needed a burst of energy for his campaign after
falling behind Obama in recent polls.
He chose Ryan, the chairman of the House of Representatives
Budget Committee, after ruling out more conventional candidates
- such as Ohio Senator Rob Portman and former Minnesota governor
Tim Pawlenty - whose impact on the race likely would have been
Welcomed onstage by Romney on Saturday, Ryan said the United
States is in a "dangerous" moment of trillion-dollar budget
deficits and rising national debt.
"We're running out of time and we can't afford four more
years of this," said Ryan, 42, who has been in Congress for 13
years. "Politicians from both parties have made empty promises
which will soon become broken promises with painful consequences
if we fail to act now."
And Ryan, in what could be taken as an acknowledgement that
the Republican campaign is willing to engage in a risky debate
over spending on popular programs, said: "President Obama and
too many like him in Washington have refused to make difficult
decisions, because they are more worried about their next
election than they are about the next generation.
"We won't duck the tough issues," Ryan said. "We will lead.
We won't blame others; we will take responsibility."
Ryan, a Catholic who is a fitness aficionado and avid deer
hunter, has many fans in the anti-tax, limited-government Tea
Party movement, although some activists have not forgiven him
for voting for a $700 billion Wall Street bailout in 2008.
He drew his biggest reaction when he said that "our rights
come from nature and God, not from government."
His selection drew fire from Democrats, who said they
relished the opportunity to showcase Ryan's proposed reductions
for Medicare and other social programs.
"Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans
who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new
budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater
burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a
stronger economy," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
Several Democrats have said that among the potential running
mates for Romney, Ryan was the one they most wanted to face
because of his harsh budget proposals.
Other Democrats questioned why Romney, who made a series of
gaffes in a recent overseas trip designed to show he could
handle foreign relations, would pick a running mate with
virtually no experience in foreign policy.
Even some Republicans - wary about how Ryan's selection
would be perceived among older Americans who rely on
government-backed health and retirement programs - are concerned
that Romney might be taking too much of a gamble with this
Republican strategist Juleanna Glover said that Obama's
campaign will bash the Ryan budget plan but picking Ryan gives
Romney a defense against critics who have questioned what the
former Massachusetts governor stands for.
"This gives Romney something no amount of ads have been able
to do - the ability to stand for something," Glover said. "The
greatest handicap in his political career has been erased."
ROUGH TIME FOR ROMNEY
The Ryan choice comes during a period in which Romney - a
former private equity executive with an estimated net worth of
up to $250 million - has been on the defensive over Democrats'
questions about how much he has paid in income taxes.
Romney has refused to release more then two years of his tax
returns, leading Democrats to say he has something to hide about
his vast wealth, which included a Swiss bank account and
accounts in offshore tax havens.
Polls suggest Obama has been helped by Democrats' efforts to
cast Romney as a wealthy former executive who is out of touch
with middle-class America.
For Romney, an outsider to Washington, Ryan would provide
some expertise in dealing with Congress. But Ryan is a
Washington insider without business or executive
Unlike many of his colleagues, who made their names at home
and then came to Washington, Ryan got his start as a Capitol
Hill intern and aide, went back to Janesville, Wisconsin to run
for office and was elected to Congress in 1998.
That is in sharp contrast to Romney, who has been critical
of Washington insiders and says his years in private equity as a
founder of Bain Capital have given him insight into the needs of
That inconsistency on the Republican ticket could be a
problem, some analysts said.
The vice presidential announcement, at the start of a
four-day campaign tour through the crucial states of Virginia,
North Carolina, Florida and Ohio, could give Romney some
momentum and energize conservatives who still view him warily.
It is likely to add excitement for the conservatives who
make up the party's core and will be out in force at the
Republican National Convention - where Romney will officially be
named the party's presidential nominee - in Tampa, Florida, in
the last week of this month.
"We are offering a positive, governing agenda that will lead
to economic growth, to widespread and shared prosperity, and
that will improve the lives of our fellow citizens," Romney
The announcement thrilled conservatives whose Midwestern
home state favors the Democrats but which could now be in play
with a native son on the ticket.
"This is excellent news. I'm excited. I'm in tears," said
Joanne Terry, a Tea Party organizer in Ozaukee County, north of
Milwaukee. "Weighing the options, he (Romney) was the best, but
now with Ryan, he is definitely the best."
South Carolina-based Republican strategist Adam Temple said
the choice of Ryan suggests Romney is thinking beyond November.
"Any choice Mitt Romney had to make carried risks, but the
reward is greater in this case. Paul Ryan has a clear
understanding of the economy and how to improve it, one of Mitt
Romney's top priorities, and they both have demonstrated
chemistry on the campaign trail," he said.
FORMING A TEAM
Romney and Ryan bonded during the Republican primary battle
in Wisconsin last spring when Ryan enthusiastically campaigned
with the 65-year-old candidate.
But their personal chemistry does not mean Romney endorses
all aspects of the Ryan budget, Romney aides said.
Ryan began work on a budget blueprint of his own before
Republicans captured the House in the 2010 mid-term elections,
but it got little attention from Republican colleagues, who were
not interested in associating themselves with a detailed list of
By the fall of 2010, however, the budget - and the deficit -
had become defining issues, in part due to the Tea Party.
After Republicans took control of the House in January 2011,
Ryan became chairman of the House Budget Committee. Suddenly he
was one of the Republican Party's most visible leaders, and a
frequent guest on cable news.
Ryan's budget plan passed the Republican-controlled House of
Representatives last March, despite significant Democratic
opposition. It went nowhere in the Democrat-led Senate.
His plan would set up a voucher-like system for the Medicare
program to help beneficiaries buy private health insurance or
give them access to the traditional fee-for-service plan.
Another controversial portion of Ryan's budget is to reduce
the cost of Medicaid, the federally backed healthcare plan for
the poor, by turning it into a block grant program for states.