Now that Mitt Romney has made Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan his running mate voters and politicos finally have something to sink their teeth into in the lead up to the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate at Centre College.
Local and state Republican leaders seemed well pleased by Romney’s Saturday morning surprise. Kentucky Republican Chairman Steve Robertson said Ryan was a fiscal hawk who would appeal to Kentucky voters tired of out-of-control spending at every level of government.
“I think Mitt Romney’s choice is a wise one because it expresses his commitment to the fact that the way Washington spends and the way Washington works is broken,” said Robertson, who was on the road at Romney’s state campaign headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.
Ryan was among the potential candidates who went through what amounted to auditions for the job by joining the Republican nominee on the campaign trail, but other names were mentioned more often in recent months. Ohio Congressman Rob Portman and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty were frequently touted in the media as front runners, with potential candidates like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, New Jersey Governor Chris Cristie and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal viewed as second-tier choices.
Tim Montgomery, chairman of the Boyle County Republican Party, said he was surprised, but ultimately gave the choice positive reviews.
“I think he’s a good candidate because the budget is his big issue,” Montgomery said.
Ryan, 42, became one of the brightest and fastest rising stars in the conservative movement with his eponymous budget plan that slashed spending and revamped Medicare and Medicaid. The so-called “Ryan budget” was lambasted by Democrats for gutting social programs as loudly as it was ballyhooed by Republicans.
While Romney is not expected to be tested by Obama in the state, Robertson hopes Ryan’s message will help lump Democrats in the Kentucky Legislature in with their counterparts in Washington.
He thinks the candidate’s youth could also be an asset.
“It’s definitely good to have one of the young faces of the Republican party on the ticket,”¿Robertson said.
One of the young faces who will greet Ryan when he comes to Centre to take on Vice President Joe Biden is Luke Wetton, president of the College Republicans.
Wetton said he thinks Ryan provides a needed jolt to a ticket headed by the staid Romney, who comes off to those in his own party as milquetoast even when discussing conservative issues. He thinks the pick will move the needle more with younger conservatives than someone like Portman or other swing-state Governor Bob McDonald of Virginia.
“It’s going to give a little bit of personality to the campaign,” Wetton said. “He really appeals to younger voters with his fiscal message. He has become a reform icon and kind of a new-look for the party.”
Although some operatives may have been glowing in the hours after the announcement, it’s yet to be seen whether adding Ryan will give Romney a bounce in the long term. Centre Government Professor Benjamin Knoll said Romney was smart to go with someone who makes some conservatives swoon in a race where there appear to be few people on the fence, but is also taking a risk.
“The Ryan pick doesn't affect the electoral math very much because Wisconsin is not much of a swing state in presidential elections anymore,” Knoll wrote in an e-mail shortly after news broke about Romney’s pick. “Most polls show Obama leading in Wisconsin by anywhere from 5-10 percent. Political science research has shown that (vice presidential) picks can get a 1-2 percent bump in their home state, at most, and that's not enough to put Wisconsin back into play unless national conditions change significantly.”
Knoll noted that Portman and Rubio would have been the better picks if he Romney were looking for an uptick in the swing states, as Ohio and Florida are within the 1-2 percent margin, and a home state vice presidential nominee could have tipped the scales.
There are, of course, different questions on the minds of those looking forward to 10-11-12 at the Norton Center for the Arts as much as election day: Can the guy debate?
Wetton believes Ryan will acquit himself well when he faces Biden.
“Obama has been trying to make it about health care and the budget, and he has gone after Paul Ryan’s budget proposal,” Wetton said. “Who better to defend it and what it stands for than the person who came up with it.”
Knoll pointed out Ryan has been praised by pundits such as Washington Post writer Ezra Klein for being quick on his feet and for his experience explaining his plans to skeptical audiences. He also thinks this bodes well for a “lively, energetic debate.”