Mitt Romney will announce his choice of running mate at one o'clock this afternoon, but members of the campaign have already confirmed his identity: Congressman Paul Ryan. I reported yesterday that the Republican right has been pressuring Romney to pick Ryan, and it looks like he's bowed to that pressure.
Despite having served as chairman of the House Budget Committee for the past year and a half – and his high profile role in budget negotiations – Ryan is still relatively unknown. A new CNN poll shows that only 27 per cent of Americans have a favourable view of the Congressman and 19 per cent an unfavourable one, which means that the majority haven't heard enough about him to form an opinion.
That means the next few days and weeks will see a race between the two campaigns to define Ryan. Team Romney will play up his Rust Belt roots and try to claim that he has a connection with the working class. A campaign advisor told Buzzfeed's McKay Coppins:
‘Given his Irish Catholic background, he's a guy that can campaign in blue collar neighborhoods. I think that puts Pennsylvania in play, I think it's going to bolster us in Ohio, I think it puts Michigan in play. I think there's going to be a whole swath of the Midwest that looks at this bright, young, very energetic guy, and is won over.’
Meanwhile the Democrats will accuse him of wanting to gut healthcare and social security – as they did when he put forward his budget proposals. They've been trying hard to tie Romney to the so-called ‘Ryan Plan’ (with videos like this) – a task that just became much easier. You can expect to see them run the clip of Newt Gingrich calling Ryan's proposals for Medicare ‘right-wing social engineering’.
The Romney staffer quoted above describes the choice as a ‘game changer’. This may be over-estimating the impact a VP selection can have, but choosing Ryan, rather than Rob Portman or Tim Pawlenty, is perhaps Romney's boldest move so far (even if he had to be pushed into it). It also suggests that he thinks Barack Obama has the upper hand at the moment. As Nate Silver says, it's ‘not a pick you make if you think you're ahead’.