I woke up this morning to discover that Mitt Romney had named Paul Ryan as his VP pick. At the very beginning of the process, I was pretty bullish on Ryan being the pick and thought he'd be a good addition to Romney's campaign and messaging. However, general wisdom was that Ryan was too happy and powerful in Congress to make the switch, unproven in a big election having never run statewide, and perhaps too divisive with his budget and conservative stances. All of these facts led most pundits to write him off, so I did the same and hadn't given him much of a shot or much thought lately. Now, that he's the pick, I've been thinking how it will impact the ticket.
What the Pick Means
There's no doubt it's a bold pick. Bold means bucking traditional wisdom and doing something to up the ante, and Mitt Romney ignored all the reasons listed above and chose Ryan anyway. Bold can be good (see: an unproven Obama deciding to run in 2008) or bad (see: McCain's choice of running mate). Mitt Romney isn't typically classified as a bold or risky guy, but I think he really went for it, here. No matter how many people claim to know the answer right now, no one actually knows how this pick will ultimately play out. We do know some things, though.
The pick is a clear indication that Romney recognizes he needs to inject a little life into a campaign that has seemed flat lately and is soundly losing in many national and swing state polls. You don't go bold and unproven if you're in the driver's seat, you go safe and tested (Pawlenty or Portman). The pick also demonstrates Romney's perceived need to lock up tea party and far-right votes, as Paul Ryan has been their darling of late with his austere budget and deficit-reduction recommendations.
What the pick means for Democrats is that they get to pick right up on their already successfully tested messaging of Ryan wanting to slash medicare and attack the most vulnerable while rewarding the most successful with his tax policies. Also, it further hampers Republicans efforts to win the important women vote, as Democrats can hit Ryan for slashing funds for women's health care.
It's a bold pick that will energize the party, but it's a little confounding that someone with such a deep opposition file and pre-defined attack messaging was selected.
What the Pick Does and Doesn't Do
Ultimately, I believe where this pick succeeds is in energizing the right and existing supporters of Romney. If some tea partiers or fiscal hawks were thinking about sitting on the sidelines due to RomneyCare or a distaste for the man, this pick likely gets them back in the game and turns them out to vote. That's a pretty big deal, as Romney can't afford to lose any part of his natural base in what looks to be a close election.
What it doesn't immediately do is bring many new voters into the fold for the Romney campaign. While all indications are that Paul Ryan is a very smart, driven, charismatic guy, he has already been pounded for months by Democratic advertising that have shaped independents' views of him as Medicare slashing and Tea Party obeying candidate. Those are not the adjectives that will turn out many new Independents. It may help the campaign pick up some voters who were on the fringe, but I doubt it sways folks who weren't already leaning Romney. With that being said, if Ryan turns out to be a great campaigner (fairly likely), amazing debater (likely), and most importantly can fight back Democratic attacks, he may be able to win over more Independents, but that's not something that happens out of the gate.
Over the next few weeks, Paul Ryan is going to be subjected to a level of scrutiny he's never experienced (his brown-nosing high school tendencies have already been unearthed) and the most immediate test for him is to make sure he doesn't crack. I think he'll be safe there. The bigger challenge will be how quickly and thoroughly the GOP messaging machine can respond to the Democratic attacks (already taking shape on Obama's cleverly titled attack site Go Back Team). I'm sure they're prepared, but these first two weeks will be critical staving off Independents forming overly negative opinions of Ryan.
I think this was a good, energetic pick for the campaign, but at a time when polls show Americans support Obama's approach to taxes (keeping cuts for the middle class while ending them for the rich) vs. Romney's (keeping and expanding all cuts), I think it opens up too many lines of attack and further paints the Romney campaign as too far-right and out of touch. Advantage goes to Obama with a commendable effort star awarded to the Romney campaign.