Congress’ record unpopularity — and what it means for Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney

August 15, 2012

That just one in 10 Americans approve of the job Congress is doing in new Gallup polling — the lowest ebb for the institution in nearly four decades — is nothing new. After all, congressional approval hasn't crested 20 percent in more than a year.

What is new, however, is that Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate is a 14-year veteran of Congress and currently chairs the House Budget Committee.

Romney's decision to pick Ryan to share the national ticket has caused all sorts of ripple effects — Medicare, anyone? — not least in giving new life to Democratic attempts to elevate House Republicans in the presidential race.

On Monday in Iowa, Obama described Ryan as "one of those leaders of Congress standing in the way" of passage of the farm bill.

And the president — currently in the midst of a three-day Iowa campaign swing — has taken to describing Ryan, as he did during a stop on Tuesday in Oskaloosa, as "the ideological leader of the Republicans in Congress."

None of that is by accident. Obama and his campaign team have been working for months to link Romney to the unpopular policies of congressional Republicans with very limited success, due to the fact that the former Massachusetts governor has never served a day in federal office.

In putting Ryan — a man who has spent the past 20-plus years of his life in and around conservative circles in Washington — on the ticket, Romney has breathed new life into Obama's "Mitt Romney=congressional Republicans" hit.

Of course, nothing in politics happens in a vacuum. So, even as Obama is trying to tie Ryan/Romney to everything people don't like about Congress — and, at this point, that's pretty much everything — the Republican ticket is seeking to cast the Wisconsin Republican as the exception to the Washington political rule.

"In a city that is far too often characterized by pettiness and personal attacks, Paul Ryan is a shining exception," Romney said Saturday in his speech introducing Ryan for the first time. "There are a lot of people in the other party who might disagree with Paul Ryan; I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t respect his character and judgment."

It remains to be seen if the "Ryan as reformer to a broken process" narrative can catch on. But simply by choosing someone with over a decade of congressional experience as his VP, Romney has handed Obama a golden opportunity to re-litigate the idea that the GOP presidential nominee should be answerable for the unpopularity of his party in Washington. And that's not a good thing for the GOP.

Thompson wins in Wisconsin: National Republicans caught a rare primary break Tuesday when former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson won the party's Senate nomination.

Thompson ran atop a field that included businessman Eric Hovde and former congressman Mark Neumann. He will face Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) in November.

In a season full of upsets in Republican primaries, Thompson stands out as a key victory for the party. Polls have shown the governor, who was broadly popular during his tenure and served four (!) terms, running significantly better than other Republicans against Baldwin.

For all the other results Tuesday, including two incumbents apparently falling, make sure to check out The Fix's recap.

Crossroads launches Senate ads in seven states: The conservative outside group Crossroads GPS is spending $4.7 million on seven new ads in six states.

The ads take on various race-specific subjects and will run in Nevada, Virginia (two ads), MissouriOhioMontana and Wisconsin.

All six states are key to control of the Senate.

Controversial Obama super PAC airs — by accident: More than a week after it first caused an uproar, the Obama super PAC ad that suggests Romney is responsible for a woman's death has aired on TV for the first time -- by accident.

BuzzFeed reports that the ad aired in Cleveland on Tuesday morning, according to an ad tracking service. But apparently it wasn't supposed to.

"Station error is all,” said Priorities USA co-founder Bill Burton.

Fact-checkers everywhere have denounced the ad, and the media has pressured the Obama campaign and the White House to opine on it, which they have declined to do.

Romney's campaign is running its own ad on the controversy, suggesting the ad is beneath the dignity of the president.

Fixbits:

Romney responds to Vice President Biden's "chains" comment, saying, "Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago." And the Obama campaign responds: "Gov. Romney's comments tonight seemed unhinged, and particularly strange coming at a time when he's pouring tens of millions of dollars into negative ads that are demonstrably false.” (A Romney ad on welfare reform has been decried by fact-checkers as well.)

Romney's campaign raised $7.4 million in the three days after Ryan's selection.

Donald Trump says he has a "big surprise" in store for the Republican National Convention. We're sure Republicans are thrilled.

A trio of House Democrats is trying to get a question about the Simpson-Bowles debt commission barred from the first presidential debate.

The New Hampshire governor's race has yet to take shape, according to a new Granite State Poll.

Rep. Ben Chandler (D-Ky.) is up with his first ad.

Nevada GOP congressional hopeful Danny Tarkanian says he would go broke if he had to post bond on a $17 million judgment against he and his family.

Former congressman Tom DeLay (R-Texas) is officially a lobbyist.

Must-reads:

"Judges for sale" -- Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker

"Utility’s Backing of Convention Tests Obama Fund-Raising Pledge" -- Jim Rutenberg, New York Times

"Obama, Romney campaigns shift to debate over energy" -- Amy Gardner and Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

"Can Mitt Romney become more likeable?" -- Rosalind S. Helderman, Washington Post

"At campaign stop, Obama talks about White House beer" -- Amy Gardner, Washington Post

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Sean Sullivan | August 14, 2012