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Liberal Groups, Unions See Opportunity in Paul Ryan Pick

Less than an hour before the news broke that Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) would be the Republican vice presidential nominee, the AFL-CIO’s super PAC shot out an email with the subject line: “Medicare, Medicare, Medicare.”

“Hell, we’re all up anyway so might as well send thoughts on Ryan,” Eddie Vale, spokesman for Workers’ Voice, wrote in an email just before 12:30 a.m. “Plus, if it’s not him, doesn’t really matter because [Mitt] Romney endorsed his plan to end Medicare.”

But Vale also wears another hat as the spokesman for Protect Your Care, a nonprofit set up by Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick last year to boost public support for the health care law.

Having Ryan on the GOP ticket gives outside groups dedicated to promoting President Barack Obama’s health care law an electric set of talking points just in time for the final months of the campaign. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan wrote a budget that would gut the health care law and rewrite the rules of Medicare.

“By picking Paul Ryan, you just say ‘drop dead’ to every senior and middle-class family in the U.S.,” said Ethan Rome, executive director of Health Care for America Now, one of several liberal groups that have devoted the past several months to emphasizing the contrast between the two candidates’ attitudes toward health care. “It makes the selection about health care and about the economic security of seniors and the middle class.”

Ryan’s controversial budget plan, approved twice by House Republicans in the past two years, has been grist for Democrats on the campaign trail largely because of its changes to entitlement programs. The plan would transition Medicare into a voucher-like system by 2022 and repeal the health care law.

Americans United for Change, a group backed primarily by the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, also relished the choice.

“We think this is the perfect match,” said Lauren Wiener, spokeswoman for the group. “We thought [health care] was going to be a main issue in many House races, but now it is clear that this is going to be rising up to the presidential race in a more poignant way.”

The group recently ran $250,000 in advertisements attacking vulnerable Republicans for their votes to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. Workers’ Voice has raised $7.1 million and spent $5.2 million so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The nonprofit groups, however, are not subject to the same Federal Election Committee reporting requirements, making their effect hard to measure.