Ryan, one of the rising stars of the GOP, was considered a long-shot choice for Romney's vice presidential pick among political circles, at least until the last week. But between a piece by William Kristol in the Weekly Standard and an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, both pushing hard for Ryan, the likelihood of his selection grew dramatically, culminating in the announcement late Friday night from the campaign that the pick would be rolled out Saturday morning.
According to a CNN/ORC poll released Thursday, just 16 percent of Republicans hoped Romney would pick Paul Ryan as his running mate (28 percent hoped for Florida Senator Marco Rubio, and another 16 percent wanted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie).
The same poll found Ryan with a 27 percent favorable rating among all Americans, while 20 percent found him unfavorable. A whopping 56 percent had either never heard of him or had no opinion. (The numbers for Republican respondents only: Favorable--46 percent, unfavorable--7 percent, never heard of/no opinion--47 percent.)
In other words, there's a lot of room for the American people to get to know Paul Ryan over the coming weeks. Here's a few things to know about the new vice presidential candidate to get you started.
Who is Paul Ryan?
Full name: Paul Davis Ryan
Current office: U.S. Congressman from the Wisconsin 1st District
Time in office: Seven terms (first elected 1998)
Chairmanship: House Committee on the Budget
His reputation inside the Beltway is as a numbers guy and a nerd. He's known as a "Midwestern nice" guy who is easygoing and personable. He loves the outdoors and is married with three young children.
What he brings to the Romney campaign:
Ryan relates to blue-collar Americans in a way that Romney, with his vast wealth, has struggled to do. Ryan has a reputation for his easy campaigning style and ability to relate to voters, another area where Romney had been criticized for appearing awkward or wooden. Ryan's conservative credentials are impeccable, whereas Romney has had to bend over backwards to repudiate his moderate record as a candidate for Senator and as Massachusetts governor to convince the right wing that he is trustworthy on their issues.
Ryan possibly also puts his home state of Wisconsin into play on the electoral map. Up until now, President Barack Obama has been polling consistently ahead in the state, most recently with a 50 percent to 44 percent edge. That same poll, however, found a shift in Romney's favor with Ryan as his running mate, with the president only leading 47 to 46 percent.
According to one Romney advisor, the campaign has high hopes for Ryan's impact on the race.
"I do think this is a game-changer," the adviser told Buzzfeed. "Given his Irish Catholic background, he's a guy that can campaign in blue collar neighborhoods. I think that puts Pennsylvania in play, I think it's going to bolster us in Ohio, I think it puts Michigan in play. I think there's going to be a whole swath of the Midwest that look at this bright, young, very energetic guy, and is won over."
Where he might hurt, or at least doesn't help:
Ryan is known for his efforts to pass a budget that implements dramatic cuts in federal spending (more on that below), and his plan has faced a lot of heat for its proposed restructuring of Medicare, which would turn it into a voucher-based program. Democrats, particularly in Florida, are celebrating Ryan's pick, knowing the unpopularity of Ryan's plan for Medicare overhaul will make it easier for them to bring their case to elderly voters, who are likely to have an important impact on the vote.
Who's calling the shots?The base sends Mitt his marching orders on VP.nyti.ms/MCbyjD— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) August 10, 2012
Ryan has little foreign policy experience, so he won't be much help in filling a gap in Romney's own lack of foreign policy credentials. Romney has also polled significantly behind with women, with Ryan's credentials unlikely to help him there.
What are his politics?
Ryan's biggest splash as a Congressman has come with his budget proposal, called "The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal," or more informally, "the Ryan budget." Romney embraced Ryan's vision, calling it "bold and brilliant" in the days before the Wisconsin Republican primary.
The Heritage Foundation, a Conservative think tank, has high praise for Ryan's budget.
"The Ryan budget...features strong, substantive, market-based reforms to the health entitlements and a solid, growth-oriented tax plan," they said. "It cuts spending, in the budget year of 2013 and into the future, from both discretionary accounts and entitlements."
Ryan has been advocating for budget reform since before he was himself an elected official, and as Budget Committee chairman, it has become his defining issue.
While Conservatives are fond of Ryan's small government budget philosophy, one of its most controversial points is that it dramatically reshapes social safety nets such as Medicare and Social Security.
Democrats will waste no time pouncing on a fiscal plan that the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calls "cowardly."
"Chairman Ryan’s sweeping budget plan has been labeled “courageous,” but it’s a cowardly budget in a crucial respect," said CBPP president Robert Greenstein. "It proposes a dramatic reverse-Robin-Hood approach that gets the lion’s share of its budget cuts from programs for low-income Americans—the politically and economically weakest group in America and the politically safest group for Ryan to target—even as it bestows extremely large tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. Taken together, its proposals would produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history, while increasing poverty and inequality more than any measure in recent times and possibly in the nation’s history."
If nothing else, the addition of Ryan will change the tenor of the campaign. Per Ezra Klein at the Washington Post:
"Ryan upends Romney’s whole strategy. Until now, Romney’s play has been very simple: Don’t get specific. In picking Ryan, he has yoked himself to each and every one of Ryan’s specifics. And some of those specifics are quite…surprising. For instance: Ryan has told the Congressional Budget Office that his budget will bring all federal spending outside Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security to 3.75 percent of GDP by 2050. That means defense, infrastructure, education, food safety, basic research, and food stamps — to name just a few — will be less than four percent of GDP in 2050. To get a sense for how unrealistic that is, Congress has never permitted defense spending to fall below three percent of GDP, and Romney has pledged that he’ll never let defense spending fall beneath four percent of GDP. It will be interesting to hear him explain away the difference."
Budget and spending: "I've looked at the numbers," Ryan writes in Young Guns. "And for as long as I have been studying the amount of tax dollars spent by the federal government versus the amount of revenue it takes in, it has been painfully clear that America is on an unsustainable fiscal path.
"We're rapidly approaching a point of no return; a tipping point after which we become a country most Americans have never dreamed we would be. If we keep spending like we're spending, American will become a place where unprecedented levels of debt overwhelm the budget, smother the economy, weaken our competitiveness in the twenty-first-century global economy, and threaten the survival of programs for the truly needy. Worse yet, we wil become a culture in which self-reliance becomes a vice and dependency a virtue; a place where so many American are dependent upon government that our country comes to reject individual initiative, entrepreneurship, and opportunity that made us great."
Abortion and family planning:
In his seven terms in the U.S. House, Ryan has voted consistently to restrict abortion and family planning, as demonstrated by two opposing perfect scores: the NARAL Pro-Choice America gives him a 0 percent score, whereas the National Right to Life Committee scores him at 100 percent.
Ryan voted to ban human cloning for reproduction or research purposes, to ban US aid abroad supporting family planning services, and to ban partial-birth abortions.
Ryan has voted to constitutionally define marriage as one man and one woman, and voted for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He voted to ban gay adoptions in the District of Columbia--but he also voted to prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation. The ACLU gave him a poor score (13 percent) on civil rights, as did the Human Rights Council (0 percent), whereas the NAACP scores him moderately (36 percent) for his record on affirmative action.
The Sikh temple where six people were killed last week is in Ryan's congressional district near Milwaukee. The national conversation inevitably turns to gun control whenever a mass shooting occurs, but gun owners can rest easy knowing Ryan has demonstrated full-throated support for easing all regulations on gun ownership. The NRA gives him an 'A' rating.
The country will learn more about Congressman--and now vice presidential candidate--Paul Ryan in the coming months. History and current polling show the vice presidential pick probably won't matter much in the election's outcome, and that voters will make their choice in November based on the same things they always do: the two candidates at the top of the tickets and the state of their wallets.
Here's Ryan's speech Saturday morning in Virginia, accepting a place beside on the GOP ticket.