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Presumed Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan as his running mate, choosing a fresh-faced congressman regarded in his party as a fiscal visionary to sharpen the contrast he’s drawing with President Barack Obama.
The choice shifts a race that Romney’s campaign has sought to frame as a referendum on Obama’s economic record into a contest between two radically different visions of government’s role, and promises a lively debate on curbing spending and overhauling U.S. entitlements, particularly Medicare.
Obama’s campaign and Democrats quickly branded Ryan an extremist who would cut popular government programs, while Republicans said he was a bold choice who would energize Romney’s bid and clarify their message.
“We’re offering a positive governing agenda that will lead to economic growth, to widespread and shared prosperity, and that will improve the lives of our fellow citizens,” Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and private equity executive, said in Norfolk, Virginia, before introducing Ryan as his running mate. “Our plan to strengthen the middle class will get America back to work and get our country back on track.”
Ryan, 42, appeared with Romney, 65, at the foot of the battleship USS Wisconsin, named for Ryan’s home state, at the start of a four-day bus tour of swing states that will be crucial to their ticket’s success.
“We won’t duck the tough issues, we will lead; we won’t blame others, we will take responsibility,” Ryan said, charging that both parties had made “empty promises.” He added, “We can turn this thing around -- real solutions can be delivered -- but it will take leadership and the courage to tell you the truth.”
The selection of Ryan, a budget and policy wonk with a penchant for drawing charts to drive home key points, has the potential to transform the presidential campaign -- dominated in recent days by attack ads and petty taunts -- into a more substance-driven race. It also answers calls from Republicans for Romney to go beyond criticizing Obama’s economic record and flesh out his own plans, and to dispense with the cautious approach that has marked his bid.
Ryan is a seven-term congressman who has led the charge among Republicans for spending cuts and a Medicare overhaul that would eventually transition the government health-care program for the elderly into a privately run system.
Republican leaders cheered the choice, praising Ryan as an articulate spokesman for their governing principles.
His “selection unifies conservatives, defines our message of bringing fiscal sanity back to our government, and brings a youthful enthusiasm to the ticket as we embark on an important debate of ideas which will define America for generations to come,” Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, said in a statement.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who challenged Romney for the Republican nomination, took to the social media site Twitter to call Ryan “a great choice” who “carries on the solutions-oriented tradition of” former President Ronald Reagan and the “Contract With America,” the governing document Republicans campaigned on when they won control of Congress in 1994, ending decades of Democratic rule.
The Obama campaign criticized Ryan’s record, releasing a new advertisement less than an hour after the announcement of the selection attacking his budget plan.
“Paul Ryan is the mastermind behind the extreme G.O.P. budget plan,” the spot says, as video shows Ryan describing his proposal as about “rewriting the health-care system, Medicare, Social Security, our entire tax system.”
The ad then shows Romney saying, “I think it’d be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and to adopt it.”
In a statement, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina described Ryan as the “architect of the radical Republican House budget” who “rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies.”
Democratic-aligned groups also pounced on Ryan as the personification of what they call extreme and damaging budget cuts that could hurt the most vulnerable.
“If there were ever any doubt that Mitt Romney is not on the side of working people, today’s choice of Representative Paul Ryan as a running mate makes it crystal clear,” Mary Kay Henry, the president of the labor union SEIU, said in a statement. “With this choice, Romney has shown the American people that he believes Representative Ryan’s extremist, irresponsible and anti-worker agenda is what’s right for our country.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, of Nevada, said in a statement that Romney, by picking Ryan, had “doubled down on his commitment to gut Social Security and end Medicare as we know it.”
First official word of the choice came through Romney’s social media application, which sent supporters an announcement this morning: “Mitt’s choice for VP is Paul Ryan. Spread the word about America’s Comeback Team.”
In fact, Romney called Ryan more than a week ago -- on Aug. 1 -- to inform him he was the vice presidential choice, according to a Republican source with knowledge of the process, and the campaign has worked in the days since to keep the decision under wraps and details of the rollout secret.
As his budget policies now take center stage, it’s a debate of ideas that Ryan 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 dueling 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.”
The background and personality of the boyish-faced Ryan -- an affable son of a lawyer and homemaker who is an avid hunter and fisherman as well as a fitness buff -- balances that of Romney, the multimillionaire son of a top automobile executive who can sometimes appear uncomfortable interacting with voters.
Ryan has three young children: Liza, Charlie and Sam, and can often be found walking the halls of the Capitol with iPod headphones in his ears, listening to Led Zeppelin, easily mistaken for the congressional aide he once was.
Romney’s swing-state tour is aimed at taking the campaign directly into areas Obama won in 2008. Starting in Virginia today, the campaign’s bus will make its way through North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.
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