The newly formed ticket reframes the debate, shifting it to fiscal issues. Rep. Ryan is a bold but potentially risky choice, likely to energize the GOP base.
Updated: August 12, 2012 - 12:07 AM
NORFOLK , VA. - Republican Mitt Romney reset the race for the presidency as a battle over the size and scope of the federal government Saturday, choosing as his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the architect of the GOP's plans to slash spending and overhaul Medicare.
In a risky and surprising move to give his campaign a jolt of momentum, Romney chose the 42-year-old congressman over several contenders considered safer bets. The selection seemed destined to shift the tone of a campaign that has become mired in petty squabbles and force a debate over how to tackle the nation's fiscal challenges.
In tapping the conservative star, Romney inextricably tied himself to Ryan's controversial vision for erasing the country's red ink -- a revamp of Medicare, deep domestic spending cuts and a restructured tax code that would lower all rates, even for the wealthy. Romney announced his selection in dramatic fashion Saturday, with each man stepping down the deck of the USS Wisconsin -- a World War II-era battleship named for Ryan's home state - to the soundtrack of the movie "Air Force One." And at a trio of packed rallies across Virginia, Romney praised his new partner as a servant of America's working classes and a citizen of integrity, character and vision.
"He's never been content to simply curse the darkness," Romney said of Ryan. "He'd rather light candles."
Before a cheering crowd of more than 1,500 here, Ryan introduced himself to the nation by saying the ticket offers a brand of candid leadership missing under President Obama.
"The commitment Mitt Romney and I make to you is this: We won't duck the tough issues; we will lead," Ryan said. "We won't blame others; we will take responsibility. And we won't replace our founding principles; we will reapply them."
Ryan was a pick for a candidate in need of a jolt; recent polls had shown Obama with a small but steady lead over Romney in key swing states.
The selection achieved the rare feat of pleasing leaders in both parties. Top conservatives said Ryan would energize the party's base and offer an articulate and robust defense of smaller government.
Democrats said they were equally convinced voters will reject Ryan's prescription for deficit reduction as too harsh -- and conclude that Obama's proposals to reduce deficits through spending cuts and higher taxes on the wealthy offers a fairer path. Jim Messina, manager of Obama's reelection effort, called the Ryan budget proposals "radical" and said they would ensure "budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors."
Romney promised that Ryan would be a candidate who "appeals to the better angels of the American people" and could help lift the national dialogue.
But even the signal moment of introducing the GOP ticket did not escape the negativity that has defined the race so far. Both Romney and Ryan wove a healthy dose of attacks on Obama throughout their remarks. In Manassas, Ryan said that Obama has led the country on a path toward "debt, doubt, despair and decline."
Although Romney's pick does not replicate the shock of Arizona Sen. John McCain's choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin four years ago, Ryan is nonetheless a splashier choice than several other contenders who had been considered safer options.
And the campaign went to extraordinary lengths to ensure their selection did not leak early, even as a series of conservative commentators waged a public campaign in recent days to encourage a Ryan pick. Romney aides said he settled on Ryan on Aug. 1, the day he returned to the United States from his foreign tour, and offered the job to Ryan in a meeting four days later.
More than two decades Romney's junior, Ryan brings a youthfulness and policy expertise that Republicans say will balance Romney's private-sector experience. Ryan is the same age as Romney's oldest son -- and with his dark hair, has been jokingly referred to as Romney's "sixth son."
Not since 1984, when Geraldine Ferraro was chosen as Walter Mondale's running mate on the Democratic side, has a House member been on a major party's ticket. And it has been 80 years since a member of the House has been on a ticket that won.
The ticket makes history in other ways: This campaign is the first in 80 years in which no candidate of either major political party has served in the military. And it will be the first in U.S. history not to include a Protestant. Ryan, a Catholic, joins the first Mormon.
The New York Times contributed to this report.
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