Contrary to the Democrats' spin, Paul Ryan is proving an asset to the Romney campaign.
Paul Ryan’s selection to the GOP presidential ticket has sent the Democratic spin machine into overdrive. Democratic pollsters and partisans alike have been at pains to claim that the Ryan pick has brought no political "bounce" to the Romney campaign, that his addition does not put a single new swing state in play. Obama pollster Joel Benenson went so far as to claim that Ryan has "had virtually no impact on Romney's position in the polls." It's a flattering reading of the political map, one that has already influenced media coverage of the presidential campaign.
Unfortunately for the Obama camp, it's also false. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that Ryan has done nothing to boost Romney's standing, the latest evidence suggests that he is already helping the campaign seize the advantage in key swing states while increasing its appeal to the Republican base and boosting its fundraising fortunes.
Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin is a case in point. In its first poll since the Ryan announcement, Democratic polling form Public Policy Polling (PPP) finds that Romney now has a small lead over Barack Obama in the Badger State. After being down 50 percent to 44 percent to Obama as recently as last month, Romney now has a small but significant one-point lead over the president. That represents a remarkable 7-point swing for Romney. While the race remains close, it's now clearly competitive. Wisconsin is no exception. Since Ryan joined the campaign, Romney has seen his poll numbers rise in battlegrounds like Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Michigan.
Credit for the turnaround is due to Ryan. With Ryan's addition, the Romney campaign is beginning to unite Republicans in a way that previously it had failed to do. PPP's poll finds that Romney now wins support from 88 percent of Republicans, as compared to the 78 percent he was winning before Ryan joined the ticket. If part of the logic of the Ryan pick was to shore up the GOP base, it seems to be working.
The same can't be said of the Democrats' attack strategy. Ryan's support for entitlement reform was supposed to make him vulnerable to Democrats' "Mediscare" tactics, in which the Congressman's budget reform proposal would be cast as the enemy of the elderly. And, indeed, Democrats made a game effort to instill terror into older voters. Borrowing heavily from an earlier anti-Ryan attack ad, which showed a lookalike of the Congressman pushing a wheelchair-bound granny of a cliff, Democratic operatives claimed that Ryan would cut off health care for seniors. Never mind that Ryan's plan would not affect current Medicare recipients and those over 55. That didn't keep Obama campaign chairman David Axelrod from insisting that Ryan's plan would deny Medicare benefits to his cancer-sick 85-year-old father. Not to be outdone, left-wing columnist Paul Krugman claimed that Ryan's budget would "kill people, no question."
It turns out, though, that older voters aren't nearly as gullible as Democrats seem to believe. In Wisconsin, for instance, the Romney campaign is getting its strongest support from seniors. In Florida, too, the Ryan pick has not proved toxic to older voters, as Democrats had hoped. Two state polls conducted since Ryan joined the ticket show that voters over 65 support both Ryan and his budget plan in higher numbers than younger voters. Those voters also reject the Democratic charge that Ryan's budget would "end Medicare as we know it." Ryan's budget remains controversial, but it hasn't been anything like the fatal liability that Democratic fear mongering would suggest.
Romney's post-Ryan resurgence is all the more notable when one considers that Democrats have been burning through cash in order to finance attack ads. As of last month, the Obama campaign had spent nearly $100 million on negative campaign ads in key swing states, with the result that it is now spending more than it is taking in through donations. By contrast, Ryan has fueled a massive surge of fundraising for the Romney campaign, which took in $7.4 million in just the first three days after the announcement.
More broadly, Ryan's selection has allowed the Romney campaign to reframe the presidential contest from one of generic opposition to one of bold vision about the nation's economic future. Though it remains a politically risky strategy, Ryan's proposal to reform entitlement programs to keep them solvent stands in stark contrast to the Obama campaign's failure of leadership on those issues. Thanks to Ryan, the Romney campaign stands for a set of ideas and not just against the incumbent.
None of this means that Romney's path to the presidency is assured. The months ahead will test whether Ryan will remain an asset. For the moment, though, it seems clear that there is in fact a "Ryan bounce," and as a result the Obama campaign may be in for a bumpy ride.
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