story by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and John McCormick
Editor's note: Updated with changes throughout the story.
Presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate, choosing a fresh-faced congressman regarded in his party as a fiscal visionary to sharpen the contrast he’s drawing with President Barack Obama.
The choice shifts a race that Romney’s campaign has sought to frame as a referendum on Obama’s economic record into a contest between two radically different visions of government’s role, and promises a lively debate on curbing spending and overhauling U.S. entitlements, particularly Medicare.
Obama’s campaign and Democrats quickly branded Ryan an extremist who would cut popular government programs, while Republicans said he was a bold choice who would energize Romney’s bid and clarify their message.
“We’re 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 former Massachusetts governor and private equity executive, said in Norfolk, Virginia, before introducing Ryan as his running mate. “Our plan to strengthen the middle class will get America back to work and get our country back on track.”
Ryan, 42, appeared with Romney, 65, at the foot of the battleship USS Wisconsin, named for Ryan’s home state, at the start of a four-day bus tour of swing states that will be crucial to their ticket’s success.
The selection of Ryan, a budget and policy wonk with a penchant for drawing charts to drive home key points, has the potential to transform the presidential campaign – increasingly dominated in recent days by attack ads and petty taunts – into a more substance-driven race.
First official word of the choice came through Romney’s social media application, which sent supporters an announcement this morning: “Mitt’s choice for VP is Paul Ryan. Spread the word about America’s Comeback Team.”
In fact, Romney called Ryan more than a week ago – on Aug. 1 – to inform him he was the vice presidential choice, according to a Republican source with knowledge of the process, and the campaign has worked arduously in the days since to keep the decision under wraps and details of the rollout secret.
The site of Romney’s appearance this morning had created speculation about the vice presidential pick.
Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman who was the author of a Republican deficit-reduction plan, is a favorite of the party’s anti-tax Tea Party wing, and some Republicans had been pushing Romney in recent days to make a bold pick that creates a clear vision for the economic recovery that is the opposite of Obama’s.
In a news release today, the Romney campaign described Ryan, 42, as someone who “has worked tirelessly leading the effort to rein in federal spending and increase accountability to taxpayers.”
The seven-term congressman has led the charge among Republicans for steep spending cuts and a Medicare overhaul that would eventually transition the government health-care program for the elderly into a privately run system. That has endeared him to the Republican Party base and led Democrats to demonize him as the personification of what they call extreme and damaging budget cuts that could hurt the most vulnerable.
“If there were ever any doubt that Mitt Romney is not on the side of working people, today’s choice of Representative Paul Ryan as a running mate makes it crystal clear,” Mary Kay Henry, the president of SEIU, said in a statement.
Ryan’s ideas – reflected in his House-passed budget – will now take center stage in the months leading up to election. It’s a contest of ideas that Ryan will likely relish, having long argued to fellow Republicans that it isn’t enough for them to criticize the administration’s record. He wants voters to choose between two competing agendas in hopes that the winner in November will have a mandate to make sweeping changes.
“I don’t want to win by default,” Ryan said earlier this year. “I want an affirming election that says ‘Here’s what we think we need to do to fix the country and if you vote for us, this is what we’ll do.’ If you win that kind of election, then you have the moral authority, the obligation to actually fix this country’s problems.”
Romney’s choice will probably thrill anti-government spending conservatives who had pressured him in recent days, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal and the Weekly Standard, to go with the Wisconsin Republican.
“He’s obviously a charismatic, highly intelligent, thoughtful Republican leader who’s widely respected,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “He takes our deficit and debt problems seriously and he has the intellectual heft and personal courage to attack those problems head on.”
The selection also may delight Democrats who have pounded congressional Republicans for more than a year for backing Ryan’s budget proposals.
It’s a “high-risk pick,” said Democratic strategist Steve Elmendorf. Ryan’s proposals become “a lot more real when the guy who wrote it all is sitting there in the debates with Joe Biden and is on the ticket campaigning,” Elmendorf said in a reference to the Democratic vice president.
Ryan was elected to Congress in 1998, at the age of 28, to represent a district covering the southeast corner of Wisconsin, between Milwaukee and the Illinois border. He was born in the district, in the town of Janesville, the youngest of four children. His father, Paul, was a lawyer. His mother, Betty, was a homemaker who later started an interior-design business.
Ryan endorsed Romney in March as he was still working to secure his party’s nomination, and Romney has said the House budget committee’s deficit-reduction blueprint will serve as a model for his administration. Ryan accompanied Romney on the campaign trail for five consecutive days before the April 3 Wisconsin presidential primary, and the two men have enjoyed a friendly relationship.
The Obama campaign criticized Ryan’s record, releasing a new advertisement less than an hour after the announcement of the selection attacking his 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.”
In a statement, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina described Ryan as the “architect of the radical Republican House budget” who “rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies.”
Democratic-aligned groups also pounced on Ryan as the personification of what they call extreme and damaging budget cuts that could hurt the most vulnerable.
Democrats plan to frame the choice as a capitulation to the fiscally conservative Tea Party movement and as evidence that Romney lacks strong backing within the grassroots of his party, according to a person close to the Obama campaign who wouldn’t comment publicly on the selection until it was announced. The campaign plans to use Ryan’s budget blueprint to cast him as an ideologue uninterested in working across the aisle, the person said.
Romney’s announcement comes as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee prepares to embark on a swing-state tour aimed at taking the campaign directly into areas Obama won in 2008.
Starting in Virginia today, the campaign’s bus will make its way through North Carolina, Florida and Ohio, all battleground states. That fact that Romney is making the announcement in Virginia underscores the state’s importance in this year’s presidential election. Obama won Virginia in 2008, becoming the first Democrat in 44 years to win the state.