Medicare Plan May Deal Paul Ryan A Tough Re-Election

National outrage may deal Ryan his first tough re-election race ever.

ByABC News
June 29, 2011, 5:54 PM

June 30, 2011 -- Winning re-election has never been an issue for Rep. Paul Ryan. He won the past six elections by a blowout margin of at least 25 percentage points and in the 2010 midterms took the seat in a landslide with 68 percent of the votes.

The Wisconsin congressman has outspent his Democratic rivals by massive proportions and has more than $3 million waiting in his 2012 war chest.

But with national outrage bubbling over his proposed Medicare reforms, Democrat Rob Zerban could be the first opponent to give Ryan a run for his money in more than a decade.

Recent polls show that both Ryan's Medicare plan and the congressman himself are not well-liked across the country.

"This will be an election unlike any other for Paul Ryan," said Graeme Zielinski, the communications director for the Wisconsin Democratic Party. "People know who Paul Ryan is. People know his plan to end Medicare and people don't like it."

Ryan's plan sets up a system of insurance exchanges where seniors choose their program and receive a voucher from the federal government to help pay for it. His plan would go into effect n 2022 and would not affect people currently over the age of 55.

A June 5 ABC News/Washington Post poll found that the group of people strongly opposed to Ryan's Medicare plan is larger, at 35 percent, than both the group that somewhat supports it and the group that strongly supports it combined, which totals only 32 percent.

According to a nationwide Bloomberg poll released last week, 26 percent of respondents view Ryan unfavorably, compared with 23 percent who view him favorably.

That national frustration is unlikely to trickle down into a defeat for Ryan in 2012, though, said Dennis Dresang, a public affairs professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

"You're better off investing in other races, not in Ryan's," because he will be too hard to beat, Dresang said.

Candidate Zerban, the former owner of a catering company, delivered an "unbelievably heavy" message to Ryan's office Tuesday in the form of 65,000 petitions that call on Ryan to "stop [his] attack on Medicare."

"We hope to show how misplaced Paul Ryan's priorities are," Zerban said. "This budget proposal shows how out of touch he is with the people in his own hometown. He's not looking out for them."

Kevin Seifert , one of Ryan's advisors, said he did not think this race would be tougher than Ryan's past races. He said Ryan has seen great turnouts and huge support at the 19 town hall meetings the congressman held after rolling out his Medicare plan in April.

"Are people going to ask questions about this plan? Are there going to be disagreements? Absolutely," Seifert said. "I think what seems to resonate with voters and what kind of helps Paul is he's willing to put these ideas out there and he's willing to say, 'Look, this is how I'm going to try and solve these problems.'"

But Dresang said the blue collar workers, in particular, from Ryan's district have not been "well served" by his policies, but "that really has not made a difference because these people see him as a decent, good-looking, nice, do-no-wrong person."

Dresang said the only way to beat Ryan is "to break through this good-guy image that he has." Medicare, he said, is one of Ryan's only vulnerabilities.

According to a report released by the Democratic staff on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Ryan's Medicare proposal would increase prescription drug costs for 9,700 of his constituents, requiring them to pay an extra $95 million over the next 10 years.

The 127,000 residents of Ryan's district between ages 44 and 54 would have to pay an additional $6,000 per year for coverage in 2022 and almost $12,000 more per year in 2032, the report said.

"There is a lot of outrage," Dresang said. "We'll see to what extent that gets mobilized against Republicans in the state."