Balancing Act: Paul Ryan Lands in Colorado

August 2012

The primary duty of any vice presidential candidate is to be the proverbial "attack dog" who does his boss's dirty work on the campaign trail, and one of Paul Ryan's first acts as Mitt Romney's running mate will be to take his act to Colorado.

Ryan made an appearance this morning in Lakewood, only the GOP ticket's second foray into the Denver area. (Romney spoke in Golden a few weeks ago.) In a normal election year, a Republican presidential team would be combing the suburbs in an attempt to sway the moderate voters so crucial to winning any swing state.

This, of course, is no normal election year. Although President Obama—for many reasons, in many ways—has squandered much of the advantage an incumbent usually enjoys, he's still thought to have a considerable stronghold along the Front Range region that was so kind to him four years ago. And given that Denver's mayor and the state's governor are both popular Democrats, the only time the Romneyites are likely to venture downtown is for a big-money fundraiser or two.

Though we might not see much of Ryan in LoDo, the rest of Colorado figures to get fairly well acquainted with him. The question is whether it will matter. Political pundits already have begun to wonder whether Romney's running mate will have a bigger impact in 2016—or between now and then—than he will this year. Ryan is young, intelligent, and charismatic, a GOP version of Bill Clinton, circa 1988 (minus, so far, the constant whiff of scandal). Even some Republicans have suggested that installing Ryan as second-in-command now sets him up to be the de facto Republican party leader as soon as the last November ballot is counted. (Over/under for how many times between now and election day that someone will express the wish that Ryan were atop the ticket this year: let's say a million.)

Presidential candidates tend to pick running mates that balance their own positions, to create the broadest possibility for victory. Even though Romney and Ryan seem to have rolled off the same Ken doll assembly line, they're actually quite different—but only if you assume that Romney is the relatively moderate chief executive he was in Massachusetts, rather than the ardent conservative he's now claiming to be. In Ryan, Romney picked someone whose voting record sits to the right of Darth Vader Dick Cheney, as hard as that might be to believe, thus cementing the conservative base Romney wooed so feverishly during the Republican primary.

The problem in Colorado and any other swing state is that Ryan, as likeable and politically adept as he might be, will now face scrutiny for a record that's not sneakily arch-conservative, but proudly so. In an election that virtually everyone thinks will be decided by moderate blocs, a ticket whose policies don't do many favors for women, gays, seniors, or the poor and working classes would seem to be doomed. (Some have even suggested that Ryan's record is so extreme that it could hurt down-ticket Republicans in their own races.)

Of course, as they say in sports, that's why they play the games. Even if President Obama pulls out a victory in November, his second term is almost certain to be at least as contentious as the first, which likely would leave Dems vulnerable four years from now. All of which means that when Romney introduced his running mate by mistakenly calling him the next President of the United States, he may actually have been correct; it just might not happen until 2016. 

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