Ending four months of speculation and mystery, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Saturday chose House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate.
Romney announced the pick in Norfolk, Va., the first stop on a four-day campaign bus tour through Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio, all swing states that President Barack Obama won in 2008. Standing in front of the U.S.S. Wisconsin, Ryan vowed that he and Romney "won't duck on the issues ... we will lead."
"We won't blame other ... Śwe will take responsibility," Ryan said in a veiled dig at Obama. "We won't replace our founding principles ... we will reapply them."
Romney verbally stumbled when formally announcing his choice to the large, flag-waving crowd that assembled at the large battleship, initially calling Ryan the next president of the United States.
"Every now and then I'm known to make a mistake," Romney said, interrupting the start of Ryan's acceptance speech. "I did not make a mistake with this guy."
In choosing Ryan, Romney set the stage for a bruising campaign over fiscal and budgetary issues that both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats will welcome. Ryan, who has served seven terms in Congress, has proposed a budget plan that would introduce massive change to Medicare and that Obama has denounced.
Ryan is adored by fiscal conservatives, however, who in recent weeks had pushed for his inclusion on Romney's ticket. Romney had endorsed Ryan's budget proposal late in the primary season, and the plan, which would sharply cut tax rates and cap Medicare benefits, is certain to be front and center in his campaign.
"Gov. Romney would seem to own that plan and need to defend it, which may be difficult in places like Florida, where seniors may be concerned (regarding) aspects like the overhaul of Medicare," said Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis University law professor and authority on the vice presidency.
Ryan's selection was lauded by most Republicans and predictably panned by Democrats.
"Congratulations to my good friend @RepPaulRyan!" Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said on Twitter. "A great choice, and will be an amazing vice president."
Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a Democratic-leaning grass-roots organization, called Ryan "a right-wing extremist who wants to end Medicare."
"This is a major unforced error by Mitt Romney," Green said in an email statement. "It gives President Obama and Democrats a chance to draw a clear contrast in 2012 by promising not to cut one penny from Medicare or Social Security benefits."
The choice of Ryan was considered somewhat of a surprise among experts, who had predicted that Romney either would play it safe by choosing a steady but unexciting running mate, such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio or former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, or would try to shake things up by choosing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who's Hispanic, or Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.
Romney's vice-presidential search was shrouded in secrecy and featured the occasional trial balloon. Last month, the Romney-friendly Drudge Report said the candidate was seriously considering former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who supports legalized abortion. Social conservatives quickly signaled to the campaign that she was unacceptable.
Ryan, 42, is known as the Republicans' gentle bulldog: sharply partisan, showing little willingness to compromise, but with a genial style. He's considered Congress' leading expert on conservative budgeting. In March, the House passed his budget blueprint on a largely party-line vote, and the Democratic-led Senate has made it clear it's going nowhere.
"Paul Ryan is a shining exception," Romney said Saturday. "He does not demonize his opponents. He understands that honorable people can have honest differences. And he appeals to the better angels of our nature. There are a lot of people in the other party who might disagree with Paul Ryan; I don't know of anyone who doesn't' respect his character and judgment."
Romney has long lauded Ryan's budget plan, but Ryan didn't endorse Romney until March 30, just before the Wisconsin primary.
"I spent a good deal of time with Mitt Romney and his staff recently going through our country's fiscal situation, talking about just what it's going to take to get the country back on track," Ryan said at the time. "And I am convinced that Mitt Romney has the skills, the tenacity, the principles, the courage and the integrity to do what it takes to get America back on track."
Ryan's budget plan is widely regarded as a road map for conservatives on the key issues of the day. It outlines in some detail how Republicans would govern, and it's often a stark contrast to Democratic ideas.
His plan would repeal the 2010 federal health care law, eliminate mortgage titans Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and shift Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - commonly called food stamps - to block-grant programs for states.
He would revamp the tax code so that there would be two brackets, 10 percent for low-income earners and 25 percent for higher wage earners and corporations. Ryan said revenue that would be lost from such a program - the current top rate is 35 percent - would be made up by closing loopholes in the tax code as well as renewed economic growth, an assertion critics say is misguided.
His proposed change to the Medicare program probably will be Democrats' biggest target. It would cap spending on future retirees and offer them a subsidy to buy private health insurance from federal insurance exchanges. Traditional Medicare would remain an option.
Independent analysts in some circles have lauded Ryan for trying to tackle entitlement spending - programs such as Medicare and Social Security - which threatens to make the already-huge federal debt balloon in the future.
"I give him credit for putting out a proposal. He's ahead of the president on this, because the president says he cares about debt reduction but hasn't proposed anything specific," Leonard Burman, a tax and budget expert at Syracuse University, said when Ryan first offered his plan.
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