Perhaps clearer than Ryan’s future is the effect that he had on the course of the White House race.
When Romney tapped Ryan in August to serve as his running mate, Democrats argued that the Ryan pick would hand their party a win on the issue of Medicare, the popular entitlement program that the Wisconsin Republican in his sweeping budget blueprint sought to overhaul. Polls last year showed a clear majority of Americans opposed Ryan’s plan.
Republicans contended that Romney’s decision to elevate Ryan would electrify the GOP base and serve as an opportunity to transform the campaign into a debate over “big issues” such as debt reduction and entitlement reform.
That big-issue debate might not have come to fruition, as both candidates set their sights on the other side’s gaffes and missteps. But Ryan and his plan to overhaul Medicare did not, polling has shown, prove to be the liability that Democrats had hoped they would be. Despite scores of Democratic campaign ads warning that Ryan would “end Medicare as we know it,” Republicans maintained a clear lead over Democrats among seniors.
Among the possible reasons for that edge: Some voters gave Ryan credit for tackling the program’s fiscal problems, while Democrats had yet to convince them that they had any sort of plan for making sure that the popular program remains solvent.
“In Paul Ryan, you have somebody who’s actually worked across the aisle and put together a comprehensive plan and at least tried to deal with this issue,” Romney senior adviser Kevin Madden said. “And I think people respect that — that he’s actually taken on something that is universally recognized by both parties as an important issue that’s going to affect the fiscal health of the country.”
In terms of the electoral map, Ryan did not succeed in putting his home state of Wisconsin into the Republican win column, as many had hoped — a particularly disappointing outcome after Republican Scott Walker’s sweeping wins in the 2010 governor’s race and the subsequent recall effort.
Ryan also campaigned vigorously in the swing state of Ohio, where he spent four years as a student at Miami University. He boosted Romney’s chances in the closely contested state, which many election strategists said was essential for a Romney victory. But last night, Ohio joined Wisconsin as a blue state for 2012.
Although Ryan did not turn out to be the “game changer” that conservatives had hoped, he energized the party base as well as his Capitol Hill colleagues, such as Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.).
Griffin, a freshman elected in the GOP’s stunning takeover of the House in 2010, has come to view Ryan as among the most compelling voices of their party. In August, after early reports of Romney’s pick began rolling in, Griffin stayed up until the wee hours of the morning tweeting his support for Ryan.
“I think it says a lot about the intellectual firepower of a lot of our folks in the House that he was chosen, particularly because of his many innovative and solution-oriented ideas,” Griffin said. “I think it says so much that he was chosen from amongst us in the House. He’s a real leader.”