Mitt Romney’s selection of U.S. Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate sharpens a race Republicans have sought to cast as a referendum on President Barack Obama’s economic record into a contest between two radically different visions of the government’s role.
As House Budget Committee Chairman, Ryan has called for changes in fiscal policy that include overhauling Medicare, slashing federal spending on the poor and cutting taxes on the wealthy. Those ideas will now take center stage in the months leading up to election.
It’s a contest of ideas that Ryan, 42, 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.”
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 Murray, was a lawyer. His mother Betty was a homemaker who later started an interior-design business.