President Obama’s speech on Tuesday, and Mitt Romney’s answer to it yesterday, confirm beyond doubt that both sides are staking the election on the larger vision, priorities, and view of the proper role of government and the safety net that is reflected in the Paul Ryan budget. Which has many people asking: Can Obama and Dems use Ryan as a foil as effectively as Bill Clinton used Gingrich in his successful 1996 reelection campaign, which came only two years after a midterm shellacking rivaling 2010?

Matt Miller has a nice column on the Obama campaign’s plan to rerun Clinton’s 1996 playbook:

What was unveiled with Obama’s powerful speech is nothing less than a replay of Bill Clinton’s reelection argument in 1996. Back then, a colorless GOP leader named Bob Dole was successfully lashed to revolutionary Newt Gingrich’s budget, which Democrats argued would ravage Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment. Dole was morphed into Gingrich at least 125,000 times in negative ads (according to Gingrich’s later tally for me), killing Dole with independents and sullying Gingrich’s brand forever.

Now Romney, who will start this fight with the highest negatives (over 50%) of any general-election contender in memory, confronts a political play that the president’s men invented and have been honing for 15 years.

There are, of course, multiple reasons Ryan isn’t comparable to Gingrich. The latter cut a far higher and far more ascerbic profile than Ryan: Gingrich, striking the pose of a conservative populist rabble-rouser, had led the 1994 takeover of Congress, launching a series of stunts that turned him into a well known national figure who was named Time’s Man of the Year in 1995.

Ryan, by contrast, is not nearly as well known, and is more a darling of conservative opinionmakers and Beltway inside-game players who have accorded Ryan an unearned designation as one of the most Fiscally Serious People in Washington. Ryan’s lower profile is perhaps best captured by those videos showing him stalking the halls of Congress in a perpetual state of well-rehearsed and overwrought deficit angst.

But there are also parallels that could prove important. It’s often forgotten that a key ingredient to Clinton’s success was drawing a hard line on Medicare, which is again central to the presidential race 16 years later. Just as in 1996, education and the environment will also prove key to Obama’s argument that he’s the candidate of the future — a message Dems hope will resonate among women and upscale voters in states like Colorado, Virginia, and North Carolina.

More broadly, the GOP, and even presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, have ceded to Ryan a startling amount of influence over the party’s fiscal policies, worldview, ideology, priorities and direction — and the resultant vision could prove just as alienating to independents, moderates and women as Newt did.

If Gingrich himself was a useful foil in 1996, Ryan’s vision for the country’s future will play that role this time around. And yet, despite the economic radicalism of the Romney-Ryan vision, Republicans remain equally convinced Ryan is a plus for them. The fact that both sides are doubling down so hard on Ryan is yet another sign that this election represents perhaps the starkest clash of ideological visions we’ve seen in a presidential race in recent memory.

* Obama advisers gleeful about Romney-Ryan embrace: Indeed, Obama’s campaign advisers think Romney’s tight embrace of Ryan will make it easier for them to highlight the radical nature of Romney’s support for deep cuts to social programs and fundamental changes to Medicare, preventing Romney from tacking to the center in the general election.

* Calling Romney’s bluff on media scrutiny: As I noted here yesterday, in his big speech Romney called on the media to scrutinize Obama’s alleged concealment of his true intentions for his second term. But as Glenn Kessler rightly points out in a good fact check of multiple Romney distortions, his speech “lacked the bevy of new facts that Obama rolled out as he lashed out at the House Republican budget plan.”

So, again: How about some serious media scrutiny of Romney’s claim that Obama hasn’t been forthcoming with his plans, particularly given criticism of Romney’s own lack of specificity?

* More good news (gulp!) about the economy? The Wall Street Journal on new Automatic Data Processing numbers: “Private-sector employers hired 209,000 workers in March, after an upwardly revised 230,000 in job gains in February ... January’s figures also were revised higher. Private employers have added nearly 2 million workers over the past 12 months.”

If tomorrow’s job numbers, which also factor in public sector employment, are over 200,000, March will be the fourth straight month to clear that threshold.

* And still more (gulp!) good news: More: “New applications for jobless benefits fell to the lowest level in nearly four years last week, further evidence that U.S. employers likely added a healthy number of workers to their payrolls in March.”

* Romney badly damaged among independents? Dem pollster Fred Yang, commenting on a Gallup poll showing Obama leading Romney by nine points among swing state independents, sums up the optimistic view of Obama advisers and Dems:

“Romney’s image is the most polarizing among voters for a presidential candidate at this stage of the election in nearly 20 years.”

Romney will reintroduce himself to swing constituencies on more favorable terms, but it does seem beyond doubt that the primary has taken a serious toll. The question is whether the Obama/Dem machine can make the positions Romney had to take in the primary stick.

* Reasons for optimism that SCOTUS will uphold Obamacare? Linda Greenhouse lays out the reasons the mandate and the health care law could still survive, and they turn on her belief (which strikes me as overly optimistic) that Justices Kennedy, Roberts, and Alito signaled that they may ultimately reject the “slippery slope” argument that the health care and broccoli markets are indistinguishable from one another.

* Is Obama vulnerable to charges of elitism? Spin of the day: The Romney campaign, responding to Dem criticism of his string of foot-in-mouth gaffes, is now trying to spin reporters into believing that Obama is the one who’s really vulnerable to charges of elitisim and being out of touch.

Of course, multiple polls have shown that majorities believe Obama shares the values of concerns of people like them...

* Taking the long view of the campaign finance fight: Finally, Dems have won a small victory: A Federal judge has ruled against campaign finance provisions allowing so-called “issue ads” (which in practice are often just political ads) not to disclose funders.

While the immediate ramifications are not clear and could amount to little, this suggests that Dems’ best hope in the long war to reform our campaign finance system may lie in the courts.

* And it’s all about the women: As I’ve been saying, the widening gender gap suggests that suburban and independent women could very well be key to Obama’s reelection, and here’s another sign of it: The DNC is rolling out new plans to train an “army of women” to organize this fall, even as the Obama campaign continues inundating female voters via mailers and social media.

In that link, an interesting observation: “women could be to Obama in 2012 what young people were to Obama in 2008.”

What else?