Republicans and Democrats Alike Put Focus on Author of GOP Budget Plan
The Republican presidential nominating fight might not wrap up until June, but speculation is already swirling about whom Mitt Romney might pick as his running mate—and both parties are focusing on the same candidate.
Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, floated to the top of some lists with his performance accompanying Mr. Romney on a recent campaign swing through Mr. Ryan’s native Wisconsin. The congressman, who is seen by many as the natural heir to the sunny fiscal conservatism of former vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, appeared particularly chummy with Mr. Romney.
Democrats are acting as if they also would like to see Mr. Ryan on the GOP ticket. President Barack Obama, in a salvo this week against Republican economic policies, attacked Mr. Romney for supporting a budget blueprint prepared by Mr. Ryan, one that seeks deep cuts in federal spending and a major overhaul of Medicare.
Mr. Romney fed the chatter the next day when he jumped to Mr. Ryan’s defense. The focus on the Ryan budget suggests it could become a defining document in the 2012 election.
Christian Ferry, a senior adviser to the previous Republican nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, called Mr. Ryan “an intriguing possibility” because he “is actually making substantive policy suggestions for urgent problems the country faces rather than worrying about the day-to-day politics.”
With the primaries still grinding along, Mr. Romney and his staff brush aside talk of potential running mates, saying it is too early to begin speculating. On Thursday, Mr. Romney told Fox News Radio he had “no predictions on who No. 2 would be” because “I’m still trying to make sure I’m the No. 1.”
Those demurrals won’t keep a lid on Washington’s favorite parlor game, a quadrennial exercise that is long on conjecture and short on facts. The list of potential candidates often floated by the news media includes such rising stars as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and lesser-known politicians, such as New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. Others are sure to surface.
Should Mr. Romney win the nomination, he could look for a pick who addresses his perceived weakness with women or Hispanics, or go for a conservative favorite with the résumé and personal appeal to convert those Republicans who have been reluctant to support him.
“The most basic requirement is the only important one: The person chosen has to be able to be president of the United States, without question,” said Mike DuHaime, an adviser to Mr. Christie who has worked on multiple presidential campaigns.
While Mr. Ryan says he isn’t angling for the job, he tells reporters he would consider the offer if asked. At age 42, Mr. Ryan would bring a rare combination of youth and experience to the ticket, but he also would bring something less enticing: more than a decade in Congress, which is held in low esteem by many voters.
Democrats have seized on the apparent bond between the two Republicans to criticize Mr. Romney. The Obama campaign has circulated a side-by-side comparison of the two men’s economic policies. Both call for reductions in personal and corporate tax rates, deep cuts in agency spending and an overhaul of Medicare that would give future retirees the chance to purchase private insurance with government subsidies.
Ryan allies say Mr. Romney would be wise to pick the man who wrote his party’s main budget blueprint. “Why wouldn’t Romney put the guy with the most expertise on the ticket with him?” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.), who worked with Mr. Ryan on early versions of his budget and prodded him to run for president.
Other prospective picks have put in far more time and effort for Mr. Romney. Mr. Christie, who toyed with his own presidential bid, held a major fundraiser for the candidate in New Jersey and campaigned for him ahead of contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and Illinois. Mr. Portman unleashed his political operation to drive turnout to help Mr. Romney pull off a crucial win in Ohio. And Mr. McDonnell, who does regular television appearances for Mr. Romney and also campaigned in early primary states, made a speech selling the former Massachusetts governor to an audience of reluctant conservatives.
But Mr. Ryan stole the show during the front-runner’s campaign swing through Wisconsin. The two men struck up an easy banter at events and made frequent cracks about the two decades that separate them in age. Mr. Ryan also helped pull off an April Fool’s prank on Mr. Romney when he introduced the governor to an empty room. And he introduced the candidate during his victory speech in Milwaukee on the night he won.
Compatibility will be a crucial ingredient in Mr. Romney’s selection, according to people close to his campaign. Mr. Romney also trusts the 42-year-old congressman to field policy questions on his behalf—a rarity for the former governor who prides himself on his command of policy details. When Mr. Romney received a question on the convoluted tax code at a Wisconsin town hall, he turned to Mr. Ryan.
“I’m going to have him describe, just for a moment, his plans on the tax code, which are very, very similar to my own,” Mr. Romney said.
Aides acknowledge the two have a friendly relationship. Stuart Stevens, chief strategist for the Romney campaign, called Mr. Ryan “terrific.” But he was quick to caution, “It wasn’t an audition.”