Choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney made a bold
statement on his campaign's central economic issues but also one that could be
risky -- particularly in the crucial swing state of Florida.
Ryan, 42, a seven-term House member from Wisconsin, is widely viewed as the Republican Party's intellectual leader for his budget proposals, which include the most drastic alterations in Medicare and Social Security ever embraced by a national party.
Florida Republicans unanimously praised the strategy as the party prepares for its Tampa convention Aug. 27, and some said they have no regrets that Romney didn't pick the state's favorite Republican son, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Miami.
"It's going to energize a substantive policy debate. We're not going to talk about silly things like tax returns," said veteran Republican strategist and fundraiser Justin Sayfie of Miami.
Tony DiMatteo, a Pinellas County GOP activist and early supporter of Rubio, accepted the choice.
"Sure it would have been neat to know the vice president personally, but I think it's not his time yet," DiMatteo said. Rubio, he added, remains "a rising star."
Rubio, in a prepared statement, called Ryan "a truly inspired choice" who "understands our nation's challenges (and) has proposed bold policies to solve them." Rubio noted that Ryan was an early backer of his while he was challenging former Gov. Charlie Crist in the 2010 Republican Senate primary.
Democrats, who have been using Ryan's budget proposals to attack Republican congressional candidates for a year, promised to do the same in the presidential race.
They pushed studies showing the Medicare changes would add thousands of dollars a year to a typical senior's health care costs.
"I can say with no doubt, middle-class families and seniors in my home state of Florida want no part of a Romney-Ryan economic scheme that puts millionaires ahead of Medicare," said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who's also chairwoman of the national Democratic Party.
In recent days, with polls showing Obama building a modest lead nationwide, some Republicans had urged Romney to put caution aside in choosing a running mate and "go bold," in the words of conservative commentator Bill Kristol.
They focused on Ryan or Rubio -- one considered the party's hottest rising star and the other a top emissary to Hispanics, a fast-growing voter group whose alienation from the GOP threatens the party's future.
University of Central Florida political scientist Aubrey Jewett said Romney did a little of both. "It's a cautiously bold choice," Jewett joked.
Romney didn't seek a demographic boost with a minority or female candidate, instead picking someone "well known as a policy guy," Jewett said.
"It's a little bit risky, but Ryan is someone most people would agree is capable of being president. He clears the low bar: First, do no harm."
Several Republicans said Saturday they see no threat that Florida seniors will reject the ticket over Ryan's proposals to change entitlement programs.
"I think people are over the demagoguery," said Hillsborough County Republican activist Sam Rashid. "Everyone understands that this entire system, if it's not beefed up, is going to be nonexistent. I don't think it's a holy
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