NORFOLK, Va. -- As Mitt Romney embarked on a swing-state tour with his new running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, the choice of the anti-deficit crusader and champion of entitlement reform had already sharpened the policy focus of the presidential contest.
Mr. Ryan, 42, is the chairman of the House Budget Committee and the chief author of a budget plan, passed by the House, which calls for sharp reductions in spending. He is also an advocate of significant restructuring for future Medicare beneficiaries and in the past has been a strong proponent of a shift in Social Security to privatized accounts.
Mr. Romney introduced the Wisconsin congressman Saturday morning before the dramatic backdrop of the battleship USS Wisconsin, docked in Norfolk, a pivotal region in a swing state carried by President Obama in 2008.
"We won't duck the tough issues; we will lead," Mr. Ryan said. "We won't blame others … we will take responsibility."
Citing a variety of lagging economic statistics, he said, "We find ourselves in a nation facing debt, doubt, and despair."
In the face of those challenges, he said, "It is our duty to save the American dream for our children and theirs."
"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," the 14-year congressman said at another point in his speech. "We might have been able to get away with that before, but not now. We're in a different, and dangerous, moment. We're running out of time -- and we can't afford four more years of this."
Extolling his new partner, Mr. Romney said, "He doesn't demonize his opponents. He understands that honorable people can have honest differences. … I don't know anyone who doesn't respect his character and judgment." In introducing his running mate, Mr. Romney mistakenly called him "the next president of the United States," a quickly corrected error similar to one President Obama made as he introduced Vice President Joe Biden four years ago.
Background in policy
Mr. Ryan, 42, has earned a reputation as an intellectual spark plug of the fiscal conservatives in his party. He was elected to Congress at the age of 28 after working in a series of party and policy jobs, including a stint as an aide to Jack Kemp, another former GOP vice presidential candidate -- he was Sen. Bob Dole's partner in 1996 -- and another fiscal conservative who worked to inject new ideas into his party.
He represents a district in southern Wisconsin, a swing state in this election and one that has been a cockpit for the conservative resurgence since President Obama's election, with the election of Tea Party favorite Scott Walker as governor in 2010. Mr. Walker survived a nationally prominent recall election this year.
The Ryan choice is a bet that the challenger can win the White House not just with criticism of the incumbent's record amid a difficult economy, but with a call for profound change in the federal government's traditional approach to spending, particularly in the soaring costs of programs such as Medicare.
Mr. Ryan's call to change the Medicare system for future recipients into one in which the government would provide premium support for private insurance has been a target for sharp criticism from Democrats. The proposal now takes center stage in a presidential race that many Democrats will welcome as a shift from a referendum on the incumbent to a choice between policy visions for the future.
Mr. Ryan's Medicare proposal was already a clear target for Democrats. He received some policy cover in the last year, however, as he forged a compromise with Sen. Ron Wyden (D, Ore.) that includes options both for private insurance and a more traditional Medicare plan.
Reaction from the right
The vice presidential choice was immediately cheered by fiscal conservatives who view Mr. Ryan as a policy pioneer. A measure of conservative loyalty to his budget blueprint came during the early stages of the GOP presidential race, when former House Speaker Newt Gingrich faced a barrage of criticisms from his party's right flank when he suggested that the Ryan Medicare plan was too radical.
"Congressman Ryan's command of economic policy and the federal budget will prove invaluable as Governor Romney fights to reform government, accelerate job growth, and rein in the out-of-control spending that has been a hallmark of President Obama's years in office," former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said in just one of the cascade of GOP statements praising the move. "This courageous choice is the type of leadership American voters deserve."
In addition to buttressing Mr. Romney's sometimes rocky relationship with the GOP's conservative base, the Ryan decision suggests Mr. Romney believes the public is ready to embrace big changes in entitlements to save those programs.
In making that case, the ticket will face renewed Democratic contentions that the Republican plan would jeopardize the nation's social safety net.
The other side
The White House announced Vice President Joe Biden called Mr. Ryan to congratulate him shortly after the morning announcement. Other Democrats, predictably, were less hospitable.
"In naming Congressman Ryan, 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," Jim Messina, Mr. Obama's campaign manager, said in a statement.
Denouncing the pick as "the architect of the radical Republican House budget," Mr. Messina charged that "his plan also would end Medicare as we know it, by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health-care costs to seniors."
The family man
Mr. Ryan, 42, a Roman Catholic, is married and the father of two sons and a daughter. He introduced his wife, Janna, and their children, Liza, Charlie, and Sam, before recalling that his own father had died when Mr. Ryan was just 16. In a profile published in last Monday's issue of the New Yorker, he cited that early death as an impetus for the urgency he has brought to budget debates in Washington -- as well as for the emphasis on fitness that's made him a regular presence in the House gym.
Recalling his father Saturday, he said, "My dad died when I was young. He was a good and decent man. I still remember a couple of things he would say that have really stuck with me. 'Son, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution.'
"Regrettably, President Obama has become part of the problem, and Mitt Romney is the solution."
Mr. Ryan, a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, was first elected to the House in 1998. He was already familiar with the Capitol from his tenure as a staff member for former GOP Sens. Bob Kasten and Sam Brownback, part of an inside- Washington resume that complements the business background of his running mate. He served on the powerful Ways and Means Committee and eventually won the gavel of the Budget Committee, a post he's used as a pulpit for his gospel of smaller government and greater self-reliance. His voting record is consistently conservative. According to rankings compiled by the Almanac of American Politics, the American Conservative Union gave him a score of 96 percent in the last Congress while the liberal Americans for Democratic Action give him a zero.
The choice comes after a week in which a succession of polls showed erosion for Mr. Romney in the tight race to unseat the President after weeks of a relentless Democratic assault on Mr. Romney's business record, and his refusal to release more than two years of tax returns. Other surveys have shown Mr. Obama with a narrow but consistent lead in polls of Wisconsin, but Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning but independent firm, found that the addition of Mr. Ryan to the ticket would bring the state into a virtual tie.
Campaigning together across the state for the Wisconsin primary in April essentially sealed the GOP nomination for Mr. Ryan. The pair displayed an apparently comfortable rapport, one that would be on display through the weekend as they embarked on their first trip as a team. The bus tour was to take them across Virginia and North Carolina, then on to Florida before a leap north to Ohio.
The itinerary would be a reminder of some of the other perhaps more traditional choices that Mr. Romney passed over in choosing the outspoken budget hawk.
Mr. Romney was introduced by Virginia's popular Gov. Bob McDonnell, one of the targets of early speculation on the potential pick. In Florida, they are to be joined by freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, another Tea Party favorite, who had been eyed as an antidote to Mr. Romney's worrisome standing with Hispanic voters. Ohio's Sen. Rob Portman, a budget director in the administration of President George W. Bush, had also been viewed as a leading contender, along with former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
This report includes information from the Associated Press.
-- James O'Toole
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