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The 25-day fight to define Paul Ryan

at 06:30 AM ET, 08/13/2012

In 25 days, we’ll likely know whether Mitt Romney picking Paul Ryan was a savvy strategy to make the November election about big ideas or a fizzled failure that collapsed under the weight of the controversial budget proposals put forward by the Wisconsin Republican.

That’s the amount of time between today and Sept. 7, the day after the Democratic National Convention concludes in Charlotte, N.C. Between now and then Ryan will have barnstormed the country — he is in Iowa today — and both parties will have had a chance to make their (heavily orchestrated) cases to the American public at their respective conventions.

At the center of the fight to define Ryan — and the Republican ticket and party more broadly — is the portion of his budget blueprint that would fundamentally alter Medicare, long a political don’t-touch-under-any-circumstances issue for both parties.

In an interview with CBS’s Bob Schieffer on Sunday, both Romney and Ryan were careful to emphasize that Ryan’s proposal would allow older people — one of the most critical voting blocs in the coming election — to keep their current Medicare but would give younger people more choices.

Ryan even sought to personalize the Medicare issue during the Schieffer sitdown, noting that “my mom is a Medicare senior in Florida.” Ryan will also travel to Florida this coming weekend to make the case for his Medicare proposal in the proverbial belly of the political beast, a trip that Romney campaign officials are quick to note is a sign that they are preparing to play offense on the issue.

They’ll need it, as there is mounds of polling data that suggest any talk of changes to Medicare — even if they won’t impact those currently covered by the program — is politically perilous.

Nearly eight in 10 people opposed reducing Medicare benefits as a way to reduce the deficit — including 73 percent of political independents — in a recent Washington Post- Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

Almost six in 10 said they would prefer Medicare to remain exactly as it is, while just 36 percent said they would rather it “be changed to a system in which the government guarantees each senior a fixed amount of money to help them purchase coverage either from traditional Medicare or from a list of private health plans.”

In addition to those poll numbers, the Obama campaign is in the midst of an all-out assault to define Ryan — and by extension Romney — as someone who wants to get rid of Medicare entirely.

A web video released by the Obama campaign this morning features Florida seniors decrying the Ryan proposal on Medicare; “If we cut it now, what’s going to happen to our middle class?” asks one woman.

Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod said Sunday that Ryan’s proposed overhaul of Medicare would put the program in a “death spiral”.

At the heart of the battle to define Ryan, his budget and what it would do to Medicare is whether he/it is viewed symbolically as a sort of “serious times require serious people and hard decisions” sentiment or whether he/it is viewed literally as an uncaring ideologue pushing his conservative agenda no matter the human cost.

That’s the fight of the next 25 days. It’s hard to overestimate how critical the outcome is to who wins this fall.

Romney and Ryan defend Medicare provisions: Here’s a taste of how Romney and Ryan talked about Medicare in their sitdown with “60 Minutes” on Sunday:

“There’s only one president that I know of in history that robbed Medicare, $716 billion to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call Obamacare,” Romney said.

Ryan added: “My mom is a Medicare senior in Florida. Our point is we need to preserve their benefits, because government made promises to them that they’ve organized their retirements around. In order to make sure we can do that, you must reform it for those of us who are younger. And we think these reforms are good reforms.”

This is a preview of the GOP’s pushback messaging: noting Obama’s own cuts to Medicare, GOP efforts to save it, and the fact that the proposal doesn’t affect current beneficiaries.

Hirono to face Lingle in Hawaii: Rep. Mazie Hirono easily won the Democratic nomination in the Hawaii Senate race on Saturday, setting up a rematch with former governor Linda Lingle (R) in November.

Hirono defeated former congressman Ed Case 58 percent to 41 percent thanks to a large financial advantage and the unspoken backing of the national Democratic Party, which saw her as the better general election candidate.

The Lingle-Hirono matchup comes 10 years after Lingle defeated Hirono in the 2002 governor’s race. This time, with the presidential race on the ballot and Obama expected to win it by a huge margin, Hirono starts as the favorite.

In the race for Hirono’s seat, Hono­lulu City Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard won the Democratic nomination over former Hono­lulu mayor Mufi Hannemann and is now set to become the first Hindu in Congress.

Fixbits:

Obama adviser David Axelrod was pressed on the controversial Priorities USA ad again Sunday. He said the ad doesn’t blame Romney for the death of Joe Soptic’s wife.

Romney has raised millions since announcing Ryan as his pick.

Sarah Palin announces she will not be speaking at the Republican National Convention.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is up with a $1.1 million ad buy in Missouri hitting Rep. Todd Akin (R) for saying he doesn’t like Social Security.

Arizona Senate candidate Wil Cardon is back on the air after going dark for a few days — but barely. The lack of air coverage suggests the self-funding Cardon may be losing hope of defeating Rep. Jeff Flake in the upcoming primary and opting not to throw good money after bad.

Flake reportedly calls for an end to direct election of senators.

The New Hampshire Union Leader endorses Ovide Lamontagne for the Republican nomination for governor.

Brendan Mullen, the Democrat running for Senate candidate Rep. Joe Donnelly’s (D-Ind.) seat, debuts a new bio ad.

Must-reads:

When Mitt Romney settled on Paul Ryan and how he kept it a secret” — Philip Rucker, Washington Post

Why Ryan Could Make a Romney Victory Harder” — Ronald Brownstein, National Journal

Paul Ryan loved Ayn Rand, before he said he didn’t” — James Rainey, Los Angeles Times

Ryan could be a drag on Romney in Florida” — Marc Caputo, Miami Herald

Liberal Wyden’s partnership with Ryan becomes a GOP talking point” — Jason Horowitz, Washington Post

Federal workers fret about jobs as sequestration looms” — Steve Vogel and Timothy R. Smith, Washington Post

Paul Ryan donations from a now-convicted Wis. businessman could draw fire” — Jerry Markon, Washington Post

Romney Picked Ryan Over Advisers’ Early Doubts” — Ben Smith, BuzzFeed

As Ryan Looks to Focus on Economy, Spotlight Shines on His Other Views” — Robert Pear, New York Times

 
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