Friday, December 6, 2013
STEVE PEOPLES, The Associated Press
GLEN ALLEN, Va. — Mitt Romney wants running mate Paul Ryan to play it safe.
Ryan, the nation's most controversial budget architect, is often described as the intellectual leader of the House Republican caucus. But Romney's presidential campaign headquarters in Boston seems, for now, to prefer that the 42-year-old father of three talks about camping and milking cows instead of the fiscal proposals that made him a conservative hero.
Ryan, who wrote a plan to overhaul Medicare as chairman of the House Budget Committee, did not use the word "Medicare" with voters over the first four days as the vice presidential candidate. When he finally touched on the health care insurance program for seniors, he did so only in broad strokes after Romney himself first outlined the campaign's talking points.
"We will not duck the tough issues," Ryan said Friday in Virginia. "We will lead."
But Ryan has been directed to avoid taking questions from reporters who travel with him, and to agree only to a few carefully selected interviews. He is known for sketching budget graphs on napkins to explain his ideas, but this past week it was Romney who used a white board during a news conference to help detail his own plan - one he says is virtually identical to Ryan's.
"I'm joining the Romney ticket," Ryan told an Ohio television station this week. "It's not the other way around. So I'm supporting the Mitt Romney plan."
Some of the Republican Party's most passionate voters see it a different way. Reluctant to support Romney during the GOP primary, they favor Ryan and his ideas more than the former Massachusetts governor who will head the party's ticket.
Romney hopes that Ryan's conservative credentials and his boyish enthusiasm will help him solidify support from the base of his party and close the "likability gap" with President Barack Obama, who remains relatively popular in spite of the nation's struggling economy.
Yet Romney does not want Ryan's plans to overshadow his own candidacy. Advisers suggest that Ryan's role will change over time. He is eager to do more, and a week after his selection became official, there are already signs that he's beginning to play a more active role.
The congressman planned to visit a retirement village in Florida on Saturday, where he was expected to help reassure nervous seniors that his plans are designed to save Medicare, not end it. Still, Romney's campaign managers want him to proceed with caution.
Romney's team remembers well the problems caused by running mates who may have been trusted prematurely to play a prominent role in a presidential race - Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin in 2008 and Sen. Dan Quayle in 1988, among them.
The Republican presidential campaign has gone to great lengths to remind voters that Romney's way rules.
Before Ryan first addressed Medicare in Ohio this week, large signs were placed in front of and behind the podium reading, "The Romney Plan." After spending his first two days campaigning with Romney, Ryan will be at his side again in the week ahead for at least one campaign appearance.
The candidates, labeled as "America's Comeback Team" in Romney's campaign signs, are set to appear together in New Hampshire's largest city on Monday. It is expected to be first of what may be many joint appearances in the coming days.
When they are together, the gregarious Ryan helps Romney shed his sometimes wooden image, and they seem to draw larger crowds together than Romney does on his own.
Just don't expect Ryan to start charting his Medicare plans on stage. His proposal to turn the guaranteed health care program for people 65 and over into a voucher-like system creates significant political challenges for the Romney-Ryan ticket - and for Republicans across the country. Many seniors don't fully understand the proposal, and Obama's re-election campaign is aggressively condemning the plan as something that would "end Medicare as we know it."
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