Mitt Romney Picks Paul Ryan As A Vice-Presidential Running Mate
NORFOLK, Va.—Mitt Romney picked Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate, a decision that could spark enthusiasm for the Republican ticket among conservatives and all but ensures the election will turn to deep philosophical divisions between the two parties over spending, taxes and entitlements.
In Mr. Ryan, 42 years old, the Romney campaign gets a conservative who has spent recent years at the center of national debates about the size and scope of the federal government. With his proposals to revamp entitlement programs for future retirees and the poor, he has become a hero to conservatives and a target for liberals.
Mr. Romney praised Mr. Ryan as “an intellectual leader of the Republican Party” who also has “shown the ability to work with members of both parties to find common ground” on tough issues. “I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t respect his character and judgment,” he said in front of USS Wisconsin, a World War II battleship that now is a museum and carries the name of Rep. Ryan’s home state.
President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign suggested the pick represents a stark choice for voters. “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,” said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
Mr. Romney told Beth Myers—his longtime adviser who was the head of the vice-presidential search—on Aug. 1 that he wanted Mr. Ryan as his running mate. He then called Mr. Ryan and asked to get together, according to an aide. Mr. Ryan formally accepted the position on Sunday, Aug. 5, when Mr. Romney offered him the slot in person.
The pick was officially announced on Mr. Romney’s phone app just after 7 a.m. on Saturday.
The Saturday morning roll out was an unusual time to unveil a running mate, both because it fell on a weekend and because it coincided with the Olympics, which have dominated much of the media cycle. Historically candidates have waited until closer to the convention to announce their No. 2.
“It’s a new media world now,” said a senior Romney staffer. “We’re in a 24-7 news cycle, so this will dominate coverage through the weekend and into next week. The bus tour is also an ideal setting for the campaign and our goal of introducing the ticket to swing state voters.”
At the Romney event, Dee and Brenda Packard, visiting Norfolk from Rigby, Idaho, praised the Ryan selection. “It’s all about the budget and the economy. They are fiscal conservatives who would provide financial leadership,” Mr. Packard said.
The history of vice-presidential picks suggests the choice can hurt a campaign, but rarely makes a difference on the upside. Typically, running mates are chosen to help buttress a campaign’s appeal to certain parts of the country or states, or to complement a candidate’s personality.
Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate marks a new turn in Campaign 2012. WSJ National Politics Editor Aaron Zitner says the Wisconsin congressman will appeal to the party’s conservative base and younger voters but his economic plan — including a proposal to massively change Medicare — will now face extra scrutiny.
Mr. Romney’s choice, by contrast, could have a more significant impact. It could go a long way to address nagging doubts about the Republican’s candidacy voiced by the party’s conservative wing, which has been seeking a more dramatic embrace of policy solutions to the U.S.’s long-term fiscal woes.
These kinds of big-picture budget policies, while hinted at by Messrs. Romney and Obama, have been debated on the campaign only infrequently.
“I believe that my record of getting things done in Congress will be a very helpful complement to Governor Romney’s executive and private sector success outside of Washington,” Mr. Ryan said. “We won’t duck the tough issues—we will lead.”
GOP campaign officials said Mr. Ryan will remain on Tuesday’s Republican primary ballot for his Wisconsin House seat and will run in November for both that seat and as part of the presidential race. There would be a special election later if Mr. Romney and he win.
In recent days, Republicans and conservative opinion leaders have split into two groups—one urging a safe pick and the other urging a bolder and perhaps riskier choice.
The first group had pushed for figures such as Ohio Sen. Rob Portman or former Minn. Gov Tim Pawlenty, who they believe would shore up Mr. Romney’s image as a steady, competent leader who can get the economy growing strongly again.
The second group had backed choices such as Mr. Ryan, as well as Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who are known for tough lines on fiscal matters. The idea: Picking such a candidate would tether Mr. Romney to a younger, reformist wing of the party.
“For those who thought the governor would ‘play it safe’ and choose someone less daring and sobering—they were wrong,” said Don Adams, president of the Independence Hall Tea Party PAC, a Philadelphia-area group that backed Mr. Romney in the primary. “From this brave selection, we can deduce that Governor Romney takes the debt crisis so seriously that he’s willing to risk his campaign on the Ryan budget plan—which seriously addresses the Federal government’s disastrous and suicidal spending levels.”
Said former GOP presidential candidate Steve Forbes, who had backed Texas Gov. Rick Perry in Republican primaries: “Governor Romney has made an election-winning decision. Paul Ryan is a superb choice; he has Reaganesque optimism about America’s limitless possibilities.”
Mr. Jindal endorsed the choice, too. “Paul is a good friend and one of the smartest guys I served with in Congress. He has the courage of his convictions, which is what our nation needs,” he said.
Mr. Ryan told the crowd in Norfolk that the economy can be quickly turned around because of the can-do attitude of its citizens. “America is an idea. It’s the only country founded on an idea,” Mr. Ryan said. “Our rights come from nature and God, not from government.”
Potential downsides of the Ryan pick include offering Democrats a single, personalized target to attack the GOP’s plan for tackling the budget deficit, which has topped $1 trillion in each year of the Obama presidency. In addition, while a hero to many on the right, a congressman of 14 years and House Budget Committee chairman, Mr. Ryan remains relatively unknown outside of political and budget circles.
It is also possible Mr. Ryan’s detailed prescriptions for fixing the budget could serve also to highlight the relative lack of detail so far presented by Mr. Romney.
The pick suggests a strategic rethink for Mr. Romney, whose campaign until this point seemed geared toward making the election a referendum on the president, with the GOP candidate maintaining a relatively low policy profile. The embrace of Mr. Ryan, and his budget prescriptions, turns that idea on its head.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who has worked closely with Mr. Ryan as senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, reinforced Mr. Romney’s contention that even people who disagree with him like and respect Mr. Ryan. “We’ve had a lot of spirited but civil debates. He is a nice guy,” he said. “It’s just we have sharp disagreements on policy and campaigns are about the direction for the country.”
Mr. Van Hollen said the selection sharpens the policy differences between the parties in a way that works to Democrats’ advantage: “It will demonstrate clearly that we face choices. The Ryan budget is great for people like Mitt Romney. It stinks for the rest of the country. It is an uncompromising, unapologetic reflection of Bush trickle-down economics on steroids.”
Messrs. Ryan and Romney seemed to have genuine chemistry on the campaign trail. At one point, Mr. Ryan—who, like Vice President Joe Biden, is a Catholic—played an April Fool’s joke on the former Massachusetts governor by introducing him to an empty room when he stumped with the presumptive nominee days before the critical Wisconsin primary earlier this year.
During his congressional career, Mr. Ryan has written bills that would allow future retirees to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in the stock market and transform Medicare, the health-care program for the elderly, into a system of subsidized private insurance. The congressman contends that these changes—none of which became law—are critical to avoiding the programs’ insolvency.
Mr. Ryan’s initial proposal to overhaul Medicare became a flash point last year when he included a version of it in his first budget blueprint as committee chairman. He has since offered a revised version that would allow younger Americans to receive standard Medicare coverage or use tax subsidies to buy private insurance.
“Higher unemployment, declining incomes and crushing debt is not a new normal,” Mr. Ryan said. “It is the result of misguided policies. And next January, our economy will begin a comeback with the Romney Plan for a Stronger Middle Class that will lead to more jobs and more take home pay for working Americans.”
His colleagues in Congress haven’t always warmed to his proposals. Last year, GOP leaders urged Mr. Ryan not to include versions of his Social Security changes in his initial budget blueprint.
His revised Medicare plan is the product of negotiations with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a rare act of bipartisan cooperation in a divided Congress that could confound the caricature of Mr. Ryan.
Mr. Ryan has ample experience debating the president and his allies, but the relationship wasn’t always so icy. Mr. Obama initially applauded the congressman for laying out detailed policy prescriptions to balance the budget, but those cheers quickly became jeers as the president and his team savaged the proposals, at one point with Mr. Ryan in attendance, saying they would undermine long-term promises to future retirees.
Those attacks have struck a chord with older voters in some key swing states, but they have also elevated Mr. Ryan to the national stage. After spending almost two years parrying these attacks from Democrats in Congress and in his numerous TV news-show appearances, Mr. Ryan appears well prepared to combat this criticism on the campaign trail.
Still, with Mr. Ryan so clearly associated with GOP economic policy, Obama aides argued that his selection as running mate would help make their case that the election is a choice between two competing visions, rather than a referendum on Mr. Obama and his handling of the economy.
Obama aides argued that the choice tethers Mr. Romney to the unpopular institution of Congress. “It makes clear that Romney would be a rubber stamp for the congressional GOP,” a senior campaign official said.
The choice of a running mate is “usually a wash” politically, he said, “but in this case there are clear advantages for us.”
A fifth-generation native of Janesville, Wis., Mr. Ryan adds stronger Midwestern roots to a ticket already topped by the son of a former Michigan governor. The Romney campaign is looking to flip states Mr. Obama won, from Iowa to Pennsylvania. He also offers the ticket a youthful face.
During Mr. Ryan’s junior year as an undergraduate at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, he took a class with a professor named Rich Hart, an outspoken and engaging libertarian with a bust of Elvis Presley in his office and an arresting contempt for the direction his university has taken over the past 20 years.
Mr. Hart found that his student had already arrived at his conservative beliefs and was testing them for weakness and strength. Mr. Hart introduced him to the National Review, a conservative-leaning magazine.
“He wasn’t searching or grappling he was just trying to reinforce his fundamental beliefs,” Mr. Hart said.
Even then, Mr. Hart said he believed Mr. Ryan would go on to do interesting things. He ranked him as among the top five students he has ever had and said he couldn’t agree more with his fiscal positions.
“He believes in small government, limited government and the competition that arises from free markets that are unencumbered by excessive government regulation,” Mr. Hart said. “Free market capitalism generates the highest rates of economic growth and the highest levels of income.”
While Mr. Ryan may hold strong appeal for outside-the-Beltway tea-party types, he has spent much of his professional life in the nation’s capital.
In college, Mr. Ryan worked as an intern for former Wisconsin Sen. Bob Kasten. After earning a degree in economics and political science from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, he returned to Washington as an aide to the Republican senator, helping to pay the bills with stints as a personal trainer and as a waiter at a Mexican restaurant a few blocks from the Capitol.
When Mr. Kasten lost to Russ Feingold in 1992, Mr. Ryan signed on with Empower America, a free-market think tank led by former New York Rep. Jack Kemp. The two men eventually formed a political bond, and Mr. Ryan often credits the former congressman as a mentor.
This isn’t Mr. Ryan’s first brush with presidential politics: When former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole named Mr. Kemp as his running mate in 1996, Mr. Ryan signed on as a speechwriter to the vice-presidential nominee.
Mr. Ryan remains a fitness enthusiast, who leads regular morning workouts for a band of younger, mostly Republican lawmakers. He is also an avid hunter who used to grow a beard during deer season to mask his scent.
As Mr. Romney unveiled his vice presidential pick, he accidentally promoted him. “Join me in welcoming the next president of the United States, Paul Ryan,” Mr. Romney said as Mr. Ryan took the stage.
The actual presidential candidate quickly realized his error. “Every now and then I’m known to make a mistake,” Mr. Romney said. “I did not make a mistake with this guy. But I can tell you this, he’s going to be the next vice president of the United States.”
Mr. Obama had a similar oops moment four years ago in Springfield, Ill., when he introduced Mr. Biden as “the next president…the next vice president of the United States of America.
In addition to Mr. Ryan, Mr. Romney will be joined on a bus tour starting in Norfolk by much of his inner circle, including Ms. Myers, longtime adviser Eric Fehrnstrom and Bob White, one of the candidate’s closest friends. And not wanting to waste any time capitalizing on the pick, Messrs. Romney and Ryan will participate on a fundraising call with top donors Sunday.
—Douglas Belkin, Janet Hook and Laura Meckler contributed to this article.