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The Risks and Rewards of Choosing Paul Ryan

By selecting House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.), Mitt Romney made the least risky, risky pick he could have made to be his partner on the national ticket.

The former Massachusetts governor promoted the most well-respected fiscal mind among Capitol Hill Republicans – and the author of one of the most controversial budget proposals in recent history.

In his remarks in Norfolk, Va., this morning, Romney portrayed Ryan as a thoughtful wonk not afraid to make tough decisions.

“In a city that’s far too often characterized by pettiness and personal attacks, Paul Ryan is the exception. He doesn’t demonize his opponents,” Romney said in front of the USS Wisconsin. “There are people in the other party who might disagree with Paul Ryan. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t respect his character and judgment.”

Conservatives, including Ryan’s House colleagues, hailed his addition to the ticket – a symbolic choice of two economic experts who might be able to correct the country’s financial woes. But Congressional Democrats salivated at the selection of Ryan, who has become their political bogeymen this cycle with his proposed changes to entitlement programs.

You could almost hear the delight from Chicago, too.

“The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said, adding the popular Democratic refrain that the Ryan plan “would end Medicare as we know it.”

House Republicans approved the Ryan budget twice in the past two years. But the legislation proved to be a nonstarter with Senate Democrats – except as kindling on the campaign trail. The plan would transition Medicare into a voucher-like system by 2022, repeal Obama’s signature health care law and slash all other discretionary spending to 12 percent of the gross domestic product in 2010, then 6 percent in 2022 and 3 percent by 2050.

But Ryan didn’t say much about his budget proposal specifics in his first moments on the national ticket. He praised Romney for his leadership in the 2002 Olympics, as governor of Massachusetts and at Bain Capital.

The Wisconsin wunderkind also leveled his first critique at the president on the ticket.

“President Obama, and too many like him in Washington, have refused to make difficult decisions because they are more worried about their next election than they are about the next generation,” Ryan said. “We might have been able to get away with that before, but not now. We’re in a different, and dangerous, moment. We’re running out of time – and we can’t afford four more years of this.”

A clean-cut 42-year-old, Ryan marks the first time a sitting House Member has been selected for the national ticket in nearly 30 years. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah) started texting fellow House Republicans about the pick late last night.

“They were thrilled,” said Chaffetz, a vocal Romney supporter. “People who know Paul Ryan, know he’s the real deal. We know Paul. We’ve interacted with him. We’ve seen his leadership and his work product.”

Ryan’s fellow Republicans painted the duo – coined by the campaign as “American’s Comeback Team” – as truth-tellers not afraid to confront the reality of the economic situation.

But Ryan’s national campaign experience is minimal – at least as a candidate. His political expertise comes from his time on Capitol Hill, as well his time on the campaign trail promoting his budget plan.

A former Capitol Hill aide, Ryan moved home to Janesville, Wis., before running for an open House seat in 1998. Ryan dominated his first Republican primary that year, winning with 81 percent of the vote. He defeated his Democratic opponent in a landslide, 57 percent to 43 percent, in a heavily targeted race.

The Wisconsin Republican has easily won re-election ever since, never pulling in less than 63 percent of the vote in his competitive district. Any Democratic attempts to challenge have sputtered.

Romney’s short list for his No. 2 on the ticket reportedly included four names: Ryan, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. But NBC News, which first broke the news of the Ryan pick, reported Romney’s comfort with Ryan was unmatched.

Meredith Shiner contributed to this report.

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