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How Paul Ryan impacts the electoral map. Or doesn’t.

at 02:16 PM ET, 08/13/2012

The word “game-changer” is being thrown around quite a bit in regards Mitt Romney’s selection as Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate over the weekend.

And there is a case to be made — and Republicans will make it — that Ryan re-focuses the election on the need for big ideas and hard truths.

But, does Ryan really change the game as it relates to the race for 270 electoral votes? Not really, according to our latest look at the Fix’s electoral map.

The most obvious place where the Ryan pick should have a positive impact for Romney is in the Congressman’s home state of Wisconsin, which we rate as a “toss up”but prior to the Ryan selection seemed to be tilting toward President Obama.

Ryan has easily held a swing(y) seat for the last 14 years, a testament to his popularity and political strength in the southeastern part of the Badger State. His winning percentage has not dropped below 60 percent in any of his re-election contests despite the fact that President Obama carried the seat in 2008 and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry took 46 percent in it in 2004.

The question then is not whether Ryan can help Romney in both his home district, and, very likely, statewide as well (the native son effect) but rather whether Romney can get or keep the race close enough to allow Ryan to make a difference.

In 2008, President Obama took 56 percent of the vote in Wisconsin and won the state by almost 415,000 votes over Arizona Sen. John McCain. Four years earlier, however, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry carried the Badger State by just 11,384 votes — less than a single point.

If the race is as tight as 2004 — or even close — having a home state boy made good on the ticket should help Romney. If the electorate looks anywhere close to how it looked in 2008, however, Ryan’s popularity won’t matter.

In short, the state still looks like a toss up to us.

The other state where Ryan could make a positive difference is Iowa where he is spending the day — and where President Obama is spending the next three (!) days.

A Republican operative pointed out to us that as Wisconsin goes, so goes Iowa. Since 1980, the two states have voted for different presidential candidates only once — in 2004 when George W. Bush narrowly carried Iowa and narrowly lost Wisconsin. Wisconsin has only voted twice for a Republican presidential nominee during that time (Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984) while Iowa went for Bush as well as Reagan twice.

The similarity in voting patterns between Wisconsin and Iowa — not to mention the fact that Ryan is in the Hawkeye State today, just three days after being announced as the VP pick — suggest that Republicans believe that he gives them a better chance to win in the state than they had without him. It’s still a toss-up in our eyes.

The place where Ryan, theoretically, hurts Romney the most is in Florida where his plan to overhaul Medicare isn’t likely to be all that popular among the state’s significant senior population.

Sensing vulnerability, Romney is in Florida today and Ryan will head there this weekend to address how his plan impacts Medicare — a attempt to play offense on the issue, according to Romney campaign insiders.

Democrats, too, are already seeking to define Ryan for Florida’s seniors; an Obama campaign web video released this morning features seniors in the Sunshine State raising questions about what Ryan’s plan would do to Medicare.

(It’s worth noting that lots and lots of Florida voters have no idea who Ryan is, making the fight to define him over these next few weeks even more important.)

Given the narrowness of the two parties’ margins in Florida — Republican presidential candidates have averaged 49.7 percent of the vote in the state over the past three elections while Democratic nominees have averaged 48.9 percent — almost any factor has the potential tip the balance in Florida. And it’s hard to imagine how Ryan helps Romney in the state.

Outside of those three states, it’s a more mixed bag as to whether Ryan helps or hurts. While we are open to the idea that Ryan can help in the swing upper Midwest states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania in particular, it feels too early to make any ratings changes there since, in Ohio and Pennsylvania especially, the case can be made that Ryan’s Medicare plan hurts not helps Romney due to their older populations.

Ryan, then, may be a game-changer from a policy perspective but when it comes to moving actual states on the electoral map, his impact is far less potent. At least so far.

 
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