It was almost as if everyone dared Mitt Romney to make a bold move.
He couldn't possibly pick Ohio Sen. Rob Portman or former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty as his running mate, could he? Too boring, the critics said! Too white bread! Too uninspiring! The cover of Newsweek talked about Romney's "wimp factor." Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert — not that he played a leading role here — described a Romney-Portman ticket as "like the bland leading the bland."
And it wasn't only about the V.P. choice. National Review columnist Mark Steyn, under the header "Milquetoast Mitt," wrote that he supports Romney and he's "not rattled by a bad week's polls. But I am bothered that Romney's insipid message does not rise to the challenge this nation faces. Maybe the milquetoast pantywaist candy-assed soft-focus 'Believe in America' shtick will prove sufficient under a relentless barrage of nakedly thuggish attack ads designed to Barry Goldwater the guy. But John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, thinks not: 'This is a race he should be able to win,' he wrote, 'so if he loses, it won't be because Obama won it. It will be because he lost it.'"
The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol and Stephen Hayes, less pessimistic, felt that what was needed was a bold selection of a running mate, one that would turn things around, saying that such a move "would suggest that Romney knows this is a big moment, and that he's willing to run a big campaign. And at a time when the country so desperately needs real leadership, Romney would make clear that he's ready to provide it by picking either Ryan or [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio." A recent post on RedState.com offered this advice: "Now is not the time to be timid. Now is not the time to play it safe. Be Bold, Governor Romney." And Kimberly Atkins, writing in the Boston Herald, said, "A vice presidential nominee rarely sways an undecided voter. But people judge candidates by the company they keep, and Mitt can't afford to share the ticket with another stiff, boring guy. He needs someone who can get a roar from a crowd, who helps him look less overly starched and out of touch."
So Romney, the cautious and risk-averse Romney, made the bold move, selecting Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate. It's a major gamble.
Ryan, the House Budget Committee chair, is not another stiff, boring guy. He is among a group of activist House Republicans who want to drastically shake up the system and tell America it is heading towards a fiscal disaster unless it drastically cuts federal spending.
The risk of naming Ryan, and his revolutionary plan to completely restructure Medicare, has always been obvious. Proponents argue that it is the only plan out there that could save the program as we know it. Opponents say that by privatizing Medicare the Ryan plan will kill it.
But not all the opposition resides in the White House. There are doubters in the GOP as well, most memorably addressed — though since retracted — by Newt Gingrich, who called Ryan's controversial plan "right-wing social engineering" in 2011. And while only ten Republicans voted against Ryan's plan when it came before the House, some GOP candidates in senior-heavy states, like Florida and Pennsylvania, could become extra vulnerable if the Democrats define Ryan's plan as a disaster for the elderly, which they are sure to do.
For its part, Romney's campaign will argue that Democrats would have tied Romney to Ryan no matter who the running mate was going to be, so why not make the election a stark choice between two philosophies?
It's a choice the White House wants to make as well.
Perhaps, if polls were more encouraging, Romney might not have gone with a risky pick. But the numbers in the key swing states were looking more and more positive for President Obama. Selecting Ryan certainly shakes up the race, though how long that lasts is unknown at this point. One thing that's clear is the Wisconsin congressman, 42 years of age, excites the conservative base of the party in a way Romney never could.
But many on the right who found 1996 nominee Bob Dole and 2008 nominee John McCain lacking were similarly ecstatic once they named Jack Kemp and Sarah Palin as their respective running mates, two choices that wowed conservatives ... but who, ultimately, were insignificant to the election results.
The choice of Paul Ryan may very well prove significant to what happens in November. But the Republican argument — that the election is all about Obama — may be in jeopardy.
Ryan's song. Ryan's resume included stints as a former staffer for ex-Sen. Bob Kasten (R-Wis.), a top aide to Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, and a protege of Jack Kemp while at Empower America when he decided to run for Congress from southeast Wisconsin (Racine, Kenosha) in 1998. It was the seat being vacated by Senate candidate Mark Neumann, a seat that had been closely contested between the two parties the three previous elections (although long held by Democrat Les Aspin before that). But Ryan easily won it, with 57 percent of the vote, and he hasn't fallen below 62 percent in his six re-election contests. President Bush won the district with 53 percent in 2004, but Barack Obama got 51 percent four years later.
House members for V.P. Here are the last three times incumbent members of the House were named as presidential running mates:
1984: Geraldine Ferraro (NY) — ticket led by Walter Mondale (D) lost.
1964: William Miller (NY) — ticket led by Barry Goldwater (R) lost.
1932: John Nance Garner (TX) — ticket led by Franklin Roosevelt (D) won.
Name the Veep contest. In my April 9 column, I asked for your prediction as to whom Romney would choose as his running mate. Several picked Ryan. But Brian Rich of Boise, Idaho was the first. At the time, he wrote, "Romney and Ryan are equally obnoxiously wonky and really deserve each other." Well, whatever. Brian wins something, not sure what yet.
Others who predicted Ryan include Becky Howard of Syracuse, N.Y., whose prediction came just two hours after Brian's; Mitchell Scott of De Pere, Wis.; Linda Markwardt; David Kaye of Milwaukee, Wis., who wrote, "While I don't personally care for the guy (I am a Milwaukee Democrat after all), I think his youth, his conservative credentials, and the fact that he and Romney get along so well make him Romney's obvious choice"; Laurie Zwick of Howell, Mich.; Jim Smith of Flippin, Ark.; Martin Long of Arlington, Mass., who wrote, "Romney's strategy is 100% focused around the economy. He's not only doubling down on the economy, he's going all-in. He's already associated himself publicly with Ryan's budget, so any downside, he's already going to get. Ryan is smart, and number-centric (just like Romney). Moreover, after watching them in Wisconsin, they clearly get along"; Stephen Gilmore of Charlotte, N.C., who noted that Ryan "is an alumnus of my alma mater, Miami University (the one in Ohio)"; Stella Neves Elbaum of Mystic, Conn.; and Danny Davis of Danville, Va.
And while seven people picked Ryan before he did, Martin Long was certainly the most persistent. Back in June he wrote, "It's going to be Paul Ryan. I can't wait to say 'I told you so'!!!"
It gets worse. Martin also happened to have the correct trivia answer last Wednesday on Talk of the Nation's Political Junkie segment. He said on the air, "And I want to remind Ken: I have been exchanging e-mails with him for weeks that Paul Ryan is going to be the VP choice."
Well, he — and everybody listed above — was right. I — as usual — was wrong.
This week. Primaries on Tuesday in Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The ones to watch:
Wisconsin: The retirement of four term Sen. Herb Kohl (D) has given Republicans an opportunity to pick up a seat. But the ostensible frontrunner, former Gov. Tommy Thompson, is being battered by conservative opposition, who argue he is too willing to compromise with Democrats and too out of touch to represent the new GOP. Thompson, 70, has been out of office since 2001, when he left Madison after four terms to join the Bush Cabinet as health and human services secretary. Former Rep. Mark Neumann is hoping support from the Tea Party Express and Club for Growth will carry him to victory, but he also has to contend with the personal fortune of another candidate, businessman Eric Hovde, who has spent some $4 million of his own money on his bid. A fourth Republican, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, is thought to be well behind. Neumann gave up a House seat, which he held for two terms, to take on then-Sen. Russ Feingold (D) in 1998, a race he lost narrowly. He also sought the GOP gubernatorial nomination in 2010, losing in a landslide to Scott Walker. The Democratic Senate nominee will be Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a solid liberal. The last Republican to hold this seat was the infamous Joe McCarthy, who died in office in 1957. And as for Rep. Paul Ryan's (R) House seat in the 1st District, state law allows him to run for both vice president and re-election to Congress, and he is expected to do so.
Connecticut: Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-Independent, is retiring after four terms. Rep. Chris Murphy, a three-term congressman from the western part of the state, is the Democrats' endorsed candidate and the frontrunner for the nomination against former former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz. On the Republican side, Linda McMahon seems to have too much money to be in jeopardy to lose to former Rep. Chris Shays for the nomination. McMahon, the former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO, was the GOP nominee for the Senate two years ago, losing in a landslide to Democrat Richard Blumenthal despite spending $50 million of her own money. While some think Shays, a moderate who has shown appeal to Democrats and independents, might be a stronger general election candidate, McMahon shows no sign of losing the primary.
Florida: Rep. Connie Mack IV, son and namesake of the former senator, is a clear favorite over ex-Rep. Dave Weldon for the Republican nomination. Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is seeking a third term. In the House, redistricting has forced two Republican incumbents --veteran John Mica and freshman Sandy Adams — to run against each other in a bitter contest. In a sense, this is a microcosm of the internal conflict that the GOP is facing. Mica, chairman of the House Transportation Committee, has long worked closely with Democrats, while Adams, backed by elements of the Tea Party, has criticized Mica as a big spender. Mica had the option of running in an adjacent district, where more of his constituents lived, but he chose to run in the same CD as Adams.
Minnesota: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D) is expected to breeze to renomination for a second term. The Republican frontrunner is thought to be state Rep. Kurt Bills, who benefited from an apparent takeover of the state GOP by Ron Paul supporters. His closest challenger appears to be businessman and veteran David Carlson, who has lost previous bids for the House and Senate. In the 8th CD, where freshman GOP Rep. Chip Cravaack is seeking re-election, much attention has been on the Democratic primary, where one of the candidates is Rick Nolan, who was elected to Congress in 1974 and served three terms before deciding against running again in 1980. If elected, he would become a freshman at age 69.
Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin.
Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions and sparkling jokes. Last week's segment, with guest host Tom Gjelten, focused on fact checking political ads, with Glenn Kessler of the Washington Post. Click here to listen.
Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," up every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner in crime, Ron Elving, and me. Last week's episode confidently explained why Mitt Romney will not choose Paul Ryan as his running mate.
And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can usually be found in this spot every Monday or Tuesday. A randomly selected winner will be announced every Wednesday during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. You still have time to submit your answer to last week's contest, which you can see here. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN T-shirt! (Truth be told: We actually held a Political Junkie t-shirt meeting at NPR last week. Progress!)
Most recent winner: Erik Johannessen of Bedford, Mass.
ON THE CALENDAR:
Aug. 14 -- Primaries in Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Aug. 21 -- Wyoming primary; Georgia runoff.
Aug. 27-30 — Republican National Convention, Tampa, Fla.
Aug. 28 — Primaries in Alaska, Arizona and Vermont.
Sept. 4-6 — Democratic National Convention, Charlotte, N.C.
Sept. 6 — Massachusetts primary.
Sept. 11 — Primaries in Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
Oct. 3 — First presidential debate, University of Denver. Also: TOTN's Political Junkie segment from St. Louis.
Oct. 10 — TOTN's Political Junkie segment from Columbus, Ohio.
Oct. 11 -- Vice Presidential debate, Centre College in Danville, Ky.
Oct. 16 — Second presidential debate, Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
Oct. 17 -- TOTN's Political Junkie segment from Las Vegas.
Oct. 22 — Third presidential debate, Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Nov. 6 — ELECTION DAY. Also: Louisiana primary.
Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********
This day in campaign history: On the second night of the Republican National Convention in San Diego, New York congresswoman Susan Molinari, the keynote speaker, gives an address that mostly mocks President Clinton. "Americans know that Bill Clinton's promises have the life span of a Big Mac on Air Force One," she said to huge cheers. But that may have been the only time she mentioned the word "life" all night. Molinari supports abortion rights, and her selection as keynoter was made to send a signal to moderates that they are still welcome in the GOP. She was preceded on the stage by N.J. Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and followed by Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, two more pro-choice Republicans. Also on the sked: House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma and House Budget Committee chair John Kasich of Ohio. After Molinari concluded the speeches, Jack Kemp — Bob Dole's choice for VP — threw little footballs into the crowd (Aug. 13, 1996).
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