Romney pick of Ryan offers voters clear choice
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sharpened the choice for American voters by picking Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, linking himself to a politician with an austere vision of government spending on social safety net programs for the elderly and poor.
Romney's choice suggested that he had accepted the arguments of powerful conservative forces in the Republican Party who argued that he could not capture the White House in the November election by simply portraying himself as a successful businessman with sweeping but vague outlines for economic recovery.
Until he chose Ryan, the former Massachusetts governor had been campaigning on a message that President Barack Obama, who had never been part of the profit-driven, rough-and-tumble business world, had failed in setting the country on a course of robust recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Conservatives, from The Wall Street Journal editorial page to the rank and file, had been clamoring in recent days for Ryan, although the Romney campaign said the decision was made on Aug. 1. The timing of the announcement came as polls showed Obama with a narrow advantage and the number of undecided voters diminishing, underscoring the need for Romney to act fast.
By aligning with Ryan, a seven-term congressman from Wisconsin who chairs the House Budget Committee, Romney has created a Republican ticket with economic overtones that will appeal deeply to the party's conservative base which favors small government and low taxes.
But mindful of just how controversial Ryan's views are among centrists, Romney sought some distance from the congressman's plan on Sunday.
"Gov. Romney is at the top of the ticket. And Governor Romney's vision for the country is something that Congressman Ryan supports," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said Sunday during a briefing for reporters.
Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to the Republican campaign, said Romney would have signed Ryan's budget if landed on his desk as president. But he emphasized that as president Romney would "be putting forward his own budget."
Those comments acknowledge what some Republicans fear. Choosing Ryan also could hand the Democrats a campaign hammer, a tool that will allow them to pound the Republican ticket for planning to gut Medicare, the government health insurance program for Americans 65 and older, and Medicaid, the program that provides health care to America's growing number of poor people.
David Axelrod, Obama's senior adviser, seized that theme Sunday and sought to cast Ryan as a "right wing ideologue" who wants to convert Medicare into a voucher plan and put the popular health-care program for the elderly in "a death spiral."
"It is a pick that is meant to thrill the most strident voices in the Republican Party, but it's one that should trouble everybody else -- the middle class, seniors, students," Axelrod said Sunday on CNN.
Ryan's budget proposal is similar to Romney's prescription on tax changes, which are widely viewed as favoring the wealthy over the middle class.
Still, the fundamentals of the campaign remained unchanged: a race defined by a weak economy and high unemployment, measured most recently at 8.3 percent in July.
Romney presented his new running mate on Saturday in front of the battleship USS Wisconsin, berthed at the naval museum in Norfolk, Virginia.
Ryan wasted no time in asserting himself in the traditional vice presidential campaign role of attack dog.
America is "a nation facing debt, doubt and despair," and a transformative change in leadership is vital, Ryan declared to a flag-waving crowd in the first moments after Romney introduced him.
"Regrettably, President Obama has become part of the problem ... and Mitt Romney is the solution" to an economy that has yet to make a strong recovery from the worst recession in decades. At 42, Ryan is a generation younger than the 65-year-old Romney.
In April, Obama called the Ryan budget plan "antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity and upward mobility for everybody who's willing to work for it; a place where prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top but grows outward from the heart of the middle class."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who challenged Romney for the Republican presidential nomination, called Ryan's plan for Medicare "right-wing social engineering." He later apologized.
The Ryan budget would scrap the current Medicare system that the nation's seniors have enjoyed for decades in favor of a voucher program for those under 55 today which would provide government checks they could use to purchase health insurance from private companies. Under the current program, the government directly pays doctors, hospitals and other health care providers. Starting in 10 years, the plan also calls for gradually raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.
Ryan and other supporters say the change is needed to prevent Medicare from financial calamity. Critics argue it would impose ever-increasing costs on seniors.
Democrats believe Romney's choice of Ryan could open the door for Obama with older voters in battleground states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Republicans say Ryan could help put Wisconsin, which traditionally has voted Democratic in presidential campaigns, in play and that the Catholic Midwesterner also could appeal to blue-collar voters that Romney, a Mormon and multimillionaire, has struggled to reach in Iowa and elsewhere. Obama won in both Iowa and Wisconsin in 2008.
The U.S. presidential election is not decided by the nationwide popular vote, but instead depends on candidates winning in the individual states. With most states already firmly in the camp of either the Republicans or the Democrats, Iowa, Wisconsin and a handful of other states will determine which candidate wins the White House.
On Sunday, Romney and Ryan were appearing at rallies in North Carolina -- a competitive state in the race -- as part of a multi-state bus tour before ending the day in Waukesha, Wisconsin, in a homecoming-themed event for Ryan. Romney then planned to head to battleground Florida and Ohio as the week begins, while Ryan was scheduled to travel to Iowa on Monday as the ticket looked to cover as much ground as possible.
Obama was starting a three-day bus tour of Iowa on Monday, signifying the importance of the toss-up Midwestern state. And he was dispatching Vice President Joe Biden to North Carolina on Monday and then on a two-day swing through Virginia starting Tuesday.
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