While Mitt Romney and his new running mate Paul Ryan took their bus tour to North Carolina today, Republicans back in Washington predicted an energized base of fiscally conservative voters will find new confidence in Romney.
Democrats, meanwhile, focused on Ryan's controversial budget plan, which Mitt Romney embraces, as the "wrong prescription for the country." Their hope is to tie Romney to Ryan's controversial plans to make Medicare and Social Security more market-based programs.
What is clear is that Ryan's addition to the ticket has shifted the conversation from tax returns and outsourcing to policy ideas and the decisions the country faces about what to do with its entitlement programs.
"I think in the selection of Paul Ryan as a running mate, Mitt Romney has claimed for the Republican ticket the mantle of change," Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said on CBS News' "Face the Nation." "I think it also indicates that Mitt Romney is going to be running an issue-oriented campaign, waged on big ideas and not engaged in the kind of nasty, negative politics that we've seen from the Barack Obama campaign."
Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, is the architect of the budget plan he calls "Path to Prosperity," which includes the controversial Medicare overhaul. The plan projects savings of $5.3 trillion over 10 years by changing the payment structure of Medicare and raising the eligibility age to 67.
The plan has garnered praise from conservative intellectuals but is seen as unpopular among the broader population.
"It's a pick that is meant to thrill the most strident voices in the Republican Party, but it's one that should trouble everybody else," Obama senior advisor David Axelrod said on ABC's "This Week."
But it was also a pick that thrilled Democratic campaign operatives, who say Romney will have trouble explaining how he differs with Ryan's more controversial plan for Medicare and hope that will enable them to scare off independent voters.
Axelrod, for instance, had several choice descriptions of Ryan's "Path to Prosperity on CNN's "State of the Union," arguing Medicare would be in "a death spiral under this plan" and it was an "attempt to do away with Medicare," and "a Trojan horse that ultimately will spell its demise."
Republicans suggested that Ryan's plan is an honest set of big ideas. And they suggested the White House under President Obama has not offered any definitive plan to fix long-term budget shortfalls. That ignited a heated exchange between Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter and Romney campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom over Medicare reform.
"Tell us what is the president's plan for entitlement reform?" Fehrnstrom repeatedly aked Cutter on CBS's "Face the Nation," to which Cutter finally said: "Go to Whitehouse.gov."
"Instead of dodging and telling people to go to a website, tell them what the plan is now," Fehrnstrom said.
"I'd be happy to tell you what the plan is now," Cutter said. "Ask the wealthy to pay a little bit more. Cut waste from the government. Reform Medicare ... more than $300 billion in savings from Medicare on top of the savings we've already achieved."
The Medicare debate is historically an issue that both parties have steered away from. People over the age of 65 are eligible to receive Medical and have typically fought hard to keep it that way, and the options for changing Medicare don't poll very well.
The Affordable Care Act, the health care overhaul pushed by Obama, cuts $700 billion in Medicare spending through curtailed payments to medical providers. Republicans campaigning in 2010 and 2012 have used that provision to attack Obama.
Ryan himself has directly accused Democrats, even Obama, of trying to scare senior citizens who often rely on Medicare.
"Now, you're going to hear from Democrats to push grandma over the cliff, all that. They have not had a plan yet to save Social Security and Medicare, and they've had nearly four years to do it," Sen. John McCain said on "Fox News Sunday." "Paul Ryan has taken the courageous steps to bring this issue to the forefront. And we're going to have to address it."
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Ryan's big ideas on how to rein in the budget will appeal to independent voters hungry for big ideas while at the same time rallying a base that has long been concerned about the deficit.
And he can help deliver Wisconsin, according to Walker.
"On one hand he has a tremendous way to inspire and pump up the base, you'll see that going into the convention," Walker said. "But at the same time -- and we've seen it for years here in Wisconsin -- he has tremendous appeal to swing voters and independent voters in states like Wisconsin that are battleground states because he's smart and he's bold, but he listens. And he relates well to voters all across the political spectrum."