In picking Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney decided to play against type. Gone is the image of the risk-averse manager who just wanted to try and run out the clock until November. In its place is a candidate who is willing to embrace a running mate who has taken bold – and very controversial – positions on two of the most hot-button issues in politics – Social Security and Medicare.
The risk is obvious: this race is now fought on territory that has long been favorable to Democrats. Voters trust Democrats more on issues relating to entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security and are inherently suspicious of Republicans on the issue.
The rewards are less clear. In picking Ryan, the Romney campaign is gambling that a debate on substance is thing that voters are hungry for. It is also an acknowledgement that a campaign fought on the terrain and issues that it has been for the last few weeks is not one that they can win. After a summer defined by attack ads over tax returns, outsourcing and reproductive rights, Romney heads into his party’s convention with the highest negative ratings of any presidential nominee in recent memory.
Moreover, the knife fight of a campaign has left voters frustrated and disillusioned. There’s no guarantee that simply drawing more blood between now and November will give Romney any sort of boost.Instead, Romney has decided to meet voters where they are – frustrated and confused – and looking for someone to give them a straight answer. Now the question is whether the “take your medicine” approach that Ryan has been promoting is the answer they wanted.
Romney, of course, is the nominee and can distance himself or attach himself as much as he wants to Ryan’s positions. He is now the boss and Ryan is his employee. Even so, there’s little doubt that the Democrats will do all they can to make sure he’s attached at Ryan’s hip.
As for the contention that Ryan helps Romney in the Electoral College, that is a huge assumption that is nowhere worthy of the risk in picking him in the first place. First, winning Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes is not necessary for Romney to win the White House. Winning Ohio and Florida are. Moreover, Ryan’s image in Wisconsin is as solid as it is because he’s never been seriously challenged electorally. He’s easily won re-election to his southern Wisconsin district for the last 14 years. And, he’s never run a statewide race.
After a summer that has been dominated by the petty and the profane, Romney has decided that he’d like to try and move the debate to substance. It’s a worthy goal, but it’s going to be a tough sell.