Aug. 11, 2012— -- With reporting from ABC's Jonathan Karl, Emily Friedman, Michael Falcone and Shushannah Walshe
The wait is over: It's Paul Ryan for vice president.
Mitt Romney rolled out his running mate for the first time in the swing state of Virginia on Saturday at three well attended rallies. Early Saturday morning, Romney's campaign had announced the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House Budget Committee chairman who has energized fiscal conservatives with his budget proposals and sweeping plans for entitlement reform.
As VP speculation reached a fever pitch Friday night, the campaign said that a pick would be announced in the morning at Romney's scheduled rally in Norfolk, Va. All signs pointed to Ryan, as top Republicans told ABC News that Romney had named the congressman as his 2012 ticketmate.
Romney and Ryan complimented each other repeatedly, criticized Obama for economic woes, and sought to gain moral high ground in the presidential campaign by touting a positive vision and sharply criticizing President Obama over both policy and politics.
Romney and Ryan appeared together as running mates for the first time at a morning rally held, fittingly, in front of the battleship USS Wisconsin, draped in American-flag bunting.
"I am deeply excited and honored to join you as your running mate," Ryan said, after bounding down from the battleship, waving to the crowd in a suit and white dress shirt. As he made his way onstage, Romney greeted him.
"Glad to have you on board," Romney said to his new campaign partner.
More on Ryan: 9 Things You Didn't Know About Paul Ryan
"Mitt Romney is a leader with the skills, the background and the character that our country needs at a crucial time in its history," Ryan said. "Following four years of failed leadership, the hopes of our country, which have inspired the world, are growing dim; and they need someone to revive them. Governor Romney is the man for this moment; and he and I share one commitment: we will restore the dreams and greatness of this country."
Mitt and Ann Romney stood behind the stage with Ryan's wife as Ryan spoke, as Ryan's children and two Romney grandchildren waved small American flags.
The newly anointed VP nominee divided his speech between praise for Romney, an introduction for himself, and criticism for the incumbent president.
"Let me say a word about the man Mitt Romney is about to replace," Ryan said. "No one disputes President Obama inherited a difficult situation. And, in his first two years, with his party in complete control of Washington, he passed nearly every item on his agenda. But that didn't make things better. in fact we find ourselves in a nation facing debt, doubt, and despair, This is the worst economic recovery in 70 years."
An awkward moment occurred when Romney introduced Ryan as "the next president of the United States." After Ryan took the podium, Romney momentarily seized it back to correct himself and laugh at his error.
"Every now and then, I'm known to make a mistake," Romney said. "I did not make a mistake with this guy, but I can tell you this: He's going to be the next vice president of the United States."
Shortly after Romney and Ryan left the stage in Norfolk, Romney's campaign offered up a fundraising e-mail to supporters, lauding Ryan as a "strong conservative leader" who is "widely respected for his leadership skills and his intellect" and asking for contributions online. Six hours later, the campaign announced it had raised $1.2 million.
The candidates moved on to Ashland, Va., for a midday rally at Randolph-Macon college. A huge crowd had gathered before the event, singing "America the Beautiful" and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as they waited for the new GOP duo. By then Romney and Ryan had changed into matching clothes: Both men wore white shirts and gray pants.
"This man said, 'I'm going to find Democrats to work with'--found a Democrat to colead a piece of legislation to make sure we can save Medicare. Republicans and Democrats coming together. He's a man who has great ideas and the capacity to lead, to find people across the aisle, to work together, to make change for the American people," Romney said., referring to Ryan's partnership with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden on a new Medicare proposal in the House GOP's 2012 budget plan--one that involved major concessions on Ryan's part.
An even larger crowd greeted them in Manassas late Saturday afternoon, where Romney staffers estimated "well over" 5,000 attendees inside the event's barricaded circumference at the edge of the Northern Virginia suburb's downtown area, with as many as 10,000 being turned away. The rally drew 17,000 registrations for attendance, Romney staff said. Three hours before the event hundreds had gathered in fair weather, lined up for blocks and buzzing excitedly outside the guarded perimeter.
Mutual affection wasn't their only message, as the Romney and Ryan continually bashed the president's handling of the economy and decried Obama's part in a negative presidential race.
Eliciting loud cheers from the crows in Manassas, Ryan demonstrated a willingness and ability to take swings at the president from the stump.
"Let's just review things for a moment. Let's see where things stand. Do you think the economy is headed in the right direction?" Ryan asked the crowd, which shouted, "No!"
"President Obama's not going to be able to run for re-election on his record, because it's a terrible record," Ryan said. "So what does he have left? Not only nothing, he's going to divide the country by trying to win this election by default. 'Hope and Change' have become 'Attack and Blame.' We're not going to fall for it."
Romney, who has engaged in a mostly negative war of TV ads with Obama, followed Ryan's introduction in Manassas and accused the president of "taking the campaign to the lowest point I can remember in my lifetime."
Ryan is viewed as a high-risk, high-reward pick for Romney, who had also considered former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, for the ticket.
Romney notified Portman personally on Friday that he was not the choice for VP. He called Pawlenty on Monday, the former Minnesota governor told ABC News.
While Ryan carries risks, most notably his controversial Medicare overhaul plan, the budget chairman has earned a reputation in the Republican Party as an earnest lawmaker with a technical and intellectual grasp of policy. He's a politically proven figure who is arguably more popular with conservatives than Romney is. At 42, he adds youth to the GOP ticket.
The Wisconsin congressman made waves in national politics with his proposal to drastically alter the federal Medicare program -- a suggestion that has been roundly attacked by Democrats, including President Obama.
This year, Ryan made major alterations to his plan, but it was his 2011 version that the GOP budget wiz stamped as his signature reform initiative.
Ryan's 2011 plan would nearly voucherize the program, ending Medicare's fee-for-service model and repacing payments to doctors with "premium-support payments" made directly to Medicare beneficiaries, with more money given to beneficiaries who can afford less.
In part because of its health care provisions, Ryan's budget plan was projected to reduce the deficit and limit Medicare spending significantly compared to projections of what taxpayers will have to pay for under current law, according to the Congressional Budget Office's preliminary long-term analysis of Ryan's plan as presented in 2011. It would also saddle individuals with a greater share of health care costs, according to the same CBO analysis.
Ryan has touted some version of that plan since at least 2008, but in December he teamed with Wyden to make some big changes, including an option for Medicare beneficiaries to stay on a fee-for-service model--a "public option" for seniors, to borrow a term from the 2010 health-reform debate. The two lawmakers also added more generous subsity payments, indexed to insurance costs instead of inflation, and a catastrophic-care benefit to limit out-of-pocket costs.
On the trail Saturday, Romney touted Ryan as a bipartisan compromiser.
"He's a man who has great ideas and the capacity to lead, to find people across the aisle, to work together, to make change for the American people," Romney said of Ryan in Ashland.
Romney himself has not embraced Ryan's Medicare plan. His campaign has circulated talking points on Ryan, including one on whether Romney supports his Medicare plan: "Gov. Romney applauds Paul Ryan for going in the right direction with his budget, and as president he will be putting together his own plan for cutting the deficit and putting the budget on a path to balance."
Reacting to Ryan's Medicare plan in 2011, before its more recent alterations, Obama called it "fairly radical." "Nothing is easier than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor or people who are powerless or don't have lobbyists or don't have clout," Obama told a gathering of 700 in a town-hall meeting held at Facebook's Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters in April 2011.
With the roll-out of Romney and Ryan as America's "Comeback Team," the Romney campaign rededicated its message to middle-class economics as it kicked off the bus tour, and Ryan's selection sets the stage for even more class-warfare-style debate between the two campaigns.
Republicans praised the announcement of Ryan, while Democrats focused on his Medicare overhaul plan.
"This is a strong pick," former president George W. Bush said in a statement emailed to reporters by Romney's campaign. "Governor Romney is serious about confronting the long-term challenges facing America, and Paul Ryan will help him solve the difficult issues that must be addressed for future generations."
"There is no question that former Governor Romney now owns the Republican, Ryan budget that puts millionaires ahead of Medicare and the middle class," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement released by her office. "Congressman Paul Ryan led House Republicans in voting to end the Medicare guarantee, which increases costs on seniors and weakens America's great middle class in order to give tax breaks to millionaires, Big Oil and corporations that ship jobs overseas."
Ryan's selection marks several campaign firsts: the first time a House member has appeared on a GOP presidential ticket since Barry Goldwater tapped New York congressman William Miller in 1964, the first major-party ticket in which neither candidate is Protestant (Ryan is Catholic; Romney, Mormon), and the first time in 80 years that a presidential race will feature no major-party presidential or VP candidates with military experience.
How does Ryan poll? ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer points out that that about as many Americans see Ryan favorably as unfavorably (24 percent vs. 20 percent) and that most, 56 percent, either have never heard of him (40 percent) or know of him but have no opinion (16 percent), according to recent polling from CNN.
His Medicare proposal was received coolly in 2011, with a June 2011 ABC/Washington Post finding that Americans preferred Medicare as it is rather than as a voucher program 65 percent to 34 percent. The poll also found that Americans were opposed to his budget plan 50 percent to 32 percent.
Romney criticized Obama today for the new health law's reductions in Medicare spending compared to projections, even as Ryan's 2011 proposal would also reduce Medicare spending compared to CBO predictions of future costs to taxpayers.
The Norfolk rally kicks off a bus tour for Romney through the swing state of Virginia, which Obama carried in 2008. On Saturday, Romney (and presumably Ryan) will continue on to Ashland and Manassas for a day of rallies that will last into the evening. From there, the tour will take Romney through North Carolina, Florida, and finally a stop in Ohio on Tuesday.