Why the GOP is winning the battle over Paul Ryan

August 29, 2012

TAMPA -- Say what you want about Paul Ryan's politics; even Democrats in Congress struggle to find a negative word to say about him.

At least, that's what Republicans have been arguing for the last two weeks.

And when it comes to the American public, it appears to be true.

A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll asked Americans to say what one word comes to mind when they think about the GOP vice presidential nominee. And people have a hard time finding negative things to say about him.

None of the top nine words people use to describe Ryan are are negative, and six of the nine are positive ("intelligent," "good," "energetic," "honest," etc.).

Not until you get to the 10th- and 11th-most-cited words do Democrats' attempts to define Ryan begin to register. That's the point at which people start describing Ryan as an "idiot" and "extremist."

And of the top 27 most-cited words, twice as many are positive -- 16 -- as negative -- eight.

All of this from a guy who starts out with positive marks, though not overwhelmingly so. In fact, the positive words used to describe Ryan suggest a politician whose favorable rating is far better than it currently is.

In other words, it seems clear that many people have processed positive GOP messages about his intellect and his life story.

More than anything, though, it shows that Democratic attacks have yet to really sink in. Respondents actually offered nearly as many negative words as positive words, but the negative reviews are far more diffuse. Most negative words were only mentioned a handful of times, with little consensus on what's bad about Ryan.

If Democrats' efforts to label Ryan as an extremist who wants to end Medicare were really catching on, we would be seeing "extreme" and "Medicare" up higher. (In fact, "Medicare" wasn't even mentioned.)

As Ryan gets ready to take the stage at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night, Republican efforts to make sure people know Ryan is a serious and respected politician and person seem to have registered more than Democratic attacks on his record.

People still have bad things to say about him, but the picture Democrats drew of an extreme Medicare terminator is hardly the prevailing view of Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick.

Schweikert, Gosar are victorious: Rep. David Schweikert (R) defeated fellow freshman Republican Rep. Ben Quayle in Arizona's 6th district. The two matched up after redistricting shuffled the districts in the Phoenix suburbs.

Over in the western 4th district, Republican Rep. Paul Gosar survived a challenge from state Sen. Ron Gould, who was backed by the Club For Growth. With about three quarters of precincts reporting, Gosar led by 19 points.

In Oklahoma's 2nd district, Republican Markwayne Mullin will be the early frontrunner to replace retiring Rep. Dan Boren (D) in a conservative-leaning district. Mullin won his runoff Tuesday and will face Democrat Rob Wallace in November.

And in Arizona's open GOP Senate primary, businessman Wil Cardon was no match for the favorite, Rep. Jeff Flake, who cruised to victory with roughly 70 percent of the vote Tuesday. Next up for Flake: Democratic nominee Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general who was recruited by President Obama to run.

Fixbits:

In total, Romney won more than 90 percent of the delegates who cast votes Tuesday.

Romney's favorable rating dips a little in advance of the GOP convention.

A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds Ann Romney's favorable rating is 42 percent, compared to 24 percent unfavorable.

CNN was the only cable news network to cut away to Hurricane Isaac coverage on Tuesday night.

Ron Paul still won't commit to voting for Romney.

Mike Huckabee compares Romney to a surgeon who is a jerk.

Univision, which has tangled with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), says on its official Facebook account that he's less Latino and less talented than Jeb Bush.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is rolling back ad buys in Missouri and New Mexico and going big in North Dakota, according to Politico.

Washington Democratic governor candidate and former congressman Jay Inslee admits making a mistake on his taxes.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) will seek reelection to his current post in 2014 after losing the GOP nomination for Senate. It would be his fourth term.

Former senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) is again battling cancer.

Must-reads:

"House Republicans Deemed Not Ready for Prime Time" -- Jonathan Weisman, New York Times

"Obama Courts the Votes of a Less-Engaged Youth" -- Jackie Calmes, New York Times

"Texas redistricting discriminates against minorities, federal court says" -- Robert Barnes, Washington Post

"Ryan’s campaign strategy bolstered by longtime advisers, some of them his friends" -- Felicia Sonmez, Washington Post

Sean Sullivan contributed to this report.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix, the Post’s top political blog.
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