Politics

Is Ryan the Right Choice for Romney?

The vice presidential pick is a bold one, but the risks may outweigh the rewards.

No doubt about it, by picking House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has put the conservative choir squarely in his corner.

The bigger question, though -- the one that will determine whether Romney moves into the White House next Jan. 20 -- is whether Ryan will help the former Massachusetts governor grab enough of the crowd that worships only sporadically in the GOP church.

Consider the impact of independents. Registration numbers suggest that Romney can't win the presidency without a sizable share of those in the political middle. So from that standpoint, choosing Ryan is curious and something of a roll of the dice.

To be sure, Ryan is intelligent, charismatic and photogenic. And no one will doubt his conservative credentials. He'll help sharpen the attack on the federal government's budget deficits and will be an effective attack dog for Romney. But you can bet the ranch that both President Obama's handlers and Democratic-leaning interest groups are already working on a strategy to portray Ryan as an enemy of the poor and the elderly.

TV ads in that vein will go hand-in-hand with Team Obama's message that Romney is making the presidential contest a battle between the haves and the have-nots.

The fodder for Democrats' attack? Ryan dared to put Medicare, Medicaid and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Social Security in play when he outlined his budget and deficit-slashing plan.

Nearly every serious student of the government's red ink problem acknowledges that entitlement programs need to be reformed. And nearly every politician ignores that reality because talking about cuts in those programs is frequently political suicide.

Give Ryan credit for not ducking the issue. But because he rules out raising taxes or other revenues as part of deficit reduction, and because Republicans are skittish about cutting defense spending, he and Romney are vulnerable to accusations that they intend to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the elderly while preserving tax cuts for the rich and fat government contracts for giant defense companies.

That won't be an entirely fair attack. They never are, from either side. But if the ads stick, Romney will be in a big-time bind, particularly since it has become clear in recent weeks that Romney is already in trouble with independents. His path to the 270 electoral votes necessary to send Obama into early retirement is steep.

Ryan's name on the ballot should help Romney in Wisconsin and New Hampshire, which had been leaning in Obama's direction. But, for the most part, Ryan's candidacy will bring out more tea party support for Romney in states where the former Massachusetts governor is already expected to win. That'll help in the nationwide popular vote, but not in delivering all-important electoral votes.

Worse, Ryan might make it more difficult for Romney to carry Florida. The GOP candidate was already an underdog there, based on recent polling. He may not be able to recover if Democrats can scare the state's large bloc of elderly voters about Social Security and Medicare.

And without Florida, it's difficult to see how Romney gets to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Romney can still win, but he and Ryan will need to quickly find a strategy that placates older folks and appeals to independent voters in states such as Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Pennsylvania.

Picking Ryan was a bold move. But the risks might outpace the rewards.

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