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Conservative budget hawks aren’t the only ones enamored with Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick. Democratic media strategists are welcoming Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to the Republican ticket with open arms and plans for pointed ads attacking the Ryan budget.
The hope among Democrats is that Romney’s selection of Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, will pump more life into ads hitting the fiscal plan Ryan proposed last year, which Democrats have labeled a plot to “end Medicare.”
Democrats were already certain to use the Ryan budget, the centerpiece of which is an overhaul of Medicare and other entitlement programs, to hammer Republicans in competitive House races. But Democratic media strategist John Rowley thinks that Ryan’s name on the ticket “will juice the attacks in congressional races.”
“It may make the attacks more effective and more credible because of the topspin the attack will get through the national media and from the presidential campaign,” says Rowley. “One of the biggest problems with campaign ads is whether people believe them or not and whether people find them credible. The Ryan Medicare cut ads will now be much more believable and credible.”
Romney and Ryan appeared alongside one another at a Saturday morning rally in Virginia, a crucial battleground this fall. There was no mention of Ryan’s budget proposal at Saturday’s rollout. Instead, the congressman pitched his record as one of “getting things done in Congress,” calling that the right compliment to Romney’s private sector experience and praising the former governor’s tenure at Bain Capital. In a solid debut as Romney's number two, Ryan promised the GOP ticket wouldn't "duck the tough issues."
For his part, Romney touted Ryan's bold leadership, adding, “We will preserve and protect Medicare and Social Security and keep them there for future generations.”
Democrats went on the attack immediately after the Romney-Ryan rally. A web video posted on President Obama’s campaign site labels Ryan “the mastermind behind the extreme GOP budget plan” and highlights Romney’s words of support for the plan.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which started the Ryan budget attacks against House GOP incumbents last spring, sent a fundraising appeal less than an hour after Ryan was officially introduced as Romney’s number two.
“Yeah—THAT Paul Ryan,” the DCCC email read. “The architect of the Republican plan to kill Medicare.”
Florida-based Democratic pollster Tom Eldon predicted the Ryan budget attacks will prove particularly effective in the Sunshine State, arguing the pick will "instantly wrong foot Romney with Florida's seniors, particularly in the critical Tampa Bay and West Palm Beach swing areas."
Conservatives, meanwhile, met the selection of Ryan with enthusiasm Saturday, offering Romney a needed jolt from his party's base. And Republican strategists argue that a narrow focus on the Ryan budget could backfire for Democrats, especially given the questionable veracity of some attack ads on the subject.
"Quite simply, Republicans want the conversation to be about budget, spending and debt,” says Rob Aho, a partner at the Republican firm Brabender Cox, who dismissed the notion that Democratic ads attacking the Ryan budget would be any more effective with the congressman on the ticket. "It's playing the game on our home turf."
Strategically, there was a solid case for Ryan as VP even as the conventional wisdom suggested Romney’s eventual pick wouldn’t be as risky. Ryan is a bonafide star with the Republican Party base and he hails from Wisconsin, a state the Romney camp would love to put in play this fall. Still, apprehension among some Republican strategists is very real. The worry is that picking Ryan places the focus squarely on his budget plan and serves as a distraction for the Romney camp.
“Yesterday the election was about the economy,” Republican media strategist Fred Davis said in an email, echoing one of the major reasons a Ryan pick was seen as a risky one among some Republicans. “Today it became about the Ryan plan.”
"This is very good for House Democrats," argues media strategist Jon Vogel, a partner at the Democratic firm MVAR Media. Vogel was one of the lead strategists for Democrat Kathy Hochul, who won a hotly-contested special election race last year in New York's 26th Congressional District. "The national media is going to spend the next two weeks educating the American public about Paul Ryan’s budget."
Last spring, Hochul's campaign led with an attack on the Ryan plan, tying Republican opponent Jane Corwin to the House Budget Committee chairman. The objective was to force Corwin’s hand on supporting the Ryan budget “allowing us to engage in a fiscal dialogue on favorable terms,” Vogel and Democratic strategist Steve Murphy wrote for C&E in a post-race case study. “We used Medicare in the context of a fiscal narrative about spending priorities, telling voters, ‘We have to cut the deficit, but do it the right way.’”
With Ryan on the ticket, says Democratic strategist Ann Liston, forcing Republicans into a battle on the Ryan plan is now focus number one.
"Republican strategists are fooling themselves if they don't think the Ryan pick is a major liability to this ticket," contends Liston. "Across the country, the Ryan budget plan polls off the charts as a negative."