Paul Ryan stirs GOP base, but does he have wider appeal in Missouri and nationwide?
TAMPA – When Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan flew to Missouri last week for a fundraising event, he attracted near unanimity of support from the state’s GOP – ranging from tea party activists to more centrist figures like former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth.
And on Wednesday night in Tampa, in accepting the GOP nomination, Ryan sought to extend that appeal to independent voters with a speech that delivered a strong message about fiscal responsibility and economic growth -- and a harsh indictment of the administration of President Barack Obama.
“After four years of getting the run-around, America needs a turnaround," Ryan told a wildly cheering conention of the GOP faithful. "We will not duck the tough issues -- we will lead. We will not spend four years blaming others; we will take responsibility."
Words like that -- backed by a detailed deficit-cutting plan -- have won Ryan support among most factions of the Republican party. Danforth admires Ryan's commitment to deficit reduction. U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., praises the Wisconsin congressman's vision. Former U.S. Sen. Christopher “Kit” Bond calls Ryan a bold thinker and a passionate spokesman for fiscal sanity.
And former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent of St. Louis, a senior adviser to Romney, said in an interview Wednesday that Ryan brings energy, depth, confidence and tremendous appeal to the GOP base. “Paul really knows how to change the system in Washington and make it better," he said.
In his passionate speech Wednesday night, Ryan energized the GOP base and sought to ease concerns among independents about the potential impact of budget proposals on Medicare and other entitlement programs.
“The work ahead will be hard," Ryan told delegates. "These times demand the best of us -- all of us, but we can do this.”
Democrats attack Ryan's ideas
Even before Ryan's attacks on Obama in his stemwinding speech, Democratic critics were setting the stage for an equally harsh bashing of Ryan's budget proposals as damaging Medicare and Medicaid, skewing the nation's tax structure, and worsening the plight of the needy.
“Should we actually be giving multi-millionaires more tax relief at this point?” asked Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., taking aim at Ryan’s budget proposals this month. “And the same time privatizing Medicare and blowing up Pell Grants and student loans?”
Previewing one of President Barack Obama’s likely attacks on the Romney-Ryan ticket during the campaign, McCaskill told reporters in St. Louis that “most Missourians think that the very wealthy don’t need another tax cut on top of what they have, all in the name of privatizing Medicare. ”
Driving home that message was the Democratic National Committee, which this week bolted 20-foot-long signs proclaiming “Romney-Ryan: Wrong for the Middle Class” on trucks that drove through downtown Tampa near the GOP convention forum. The DNC also took out a full-page ad in a Tampa newspaper accusing Ryan’s plan of seeking to “end Medicare as we know it.”
That reference, similar to McCaskill’s point, was to Ryan’s budget proposal to revamp Medicare in the future so it would be a voucher program, providing federal health insurance subsidies for retirees (starting with those now under age 55) so they can buy private insurance rather than enroll in Medicare. An amended version of that plan also would allow retirees to choose a plan similar to today’s Medicare, although they would likely have to pay extra for it.
GOP accuse Dems of 'Mediscare' distortion
In his 35-minute Tampa speech, Ryan lashed back at such critics, arguing that his plan would guarantee the long-term future of Medicare rather than damage the health care program.
"The greatest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we're going to stop it," Ryan said. “A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my Mom’s generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours.”
Blunt accuses Democrats of “doing everything they can to distort" Ryan’s proposals for revamping Medicare. Under the revised version, Blunt said, “Medicare as we know it . . . would be one of the options you could choose.”
"The only way to save Medicare [in the long run] is to change it,” Blunt told Missouri GOP delegates in Tampa this week. “These problems are big, but they’re not necessarily all that complicated.”
In general, Blunt said, “The greatest significance of the Paul Ryan pick was that Gov. Romney said to the American people: 'We’re going to be a party that’s for solving these [budget] problems. And we’re willing to debate, in some detail, how we’ll solve those problems.'”
Some critics, including U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have criticized Ryan for voting against the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan late in 2010. That plan had called for a mix of entitlement-program cutbacks and revenue increases to address the nation’s long-term deficit.
Another prominent critic, U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. -- the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee that Ryan chairs – said at a news conference Wednesday that Ryan was engaging in a “calculated, cynical effort to confuse seniors and to hide from seniors just how bad the Romney-Ryan plan would be.”
But U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a dedicated budget-cutter who served with Ryan and Durbin on the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction panel in 2010, wrote recently that Ryan’s vote against that plan – which Durbin and Coburn voted for -- was principled.
Coburn accused Democrats of using “Mediscare” tactics against Ryan and argued that President Barack Obama’s 2011 decision “to punt on deficit reduction – and then to ridicule Ryan’s plan to address the deficit – offended and disappointed” both Republicans and some Democrats who argue for serious deficit reduction.
Ryan has wide appeal in GOP circles. Another leading Republican whom Romney also had considered as a potential running mate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told ABC on Wednesday that Ryan is “a serious policy thinker” who “brings a unique life experience and a unique perspective on some of the issues that we face.”
But Ryan has taken some controversial stands outside of his budget cutting and Medicare pans. On another hot-button issue – made even hotter than usual by the controversy over U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape” and abortion – is that like Akin, Ryan has opposed any exceptions to abortion.
However, Ryan, who knows Akin well as a fellow member of both the U.S. House Republican caucus and the Budget Committee, was among the national GOP figures to call Akin last week and ask him to step aside from the Senate race for the good of the party.
Among Missouri delegates and alternates to the GOP convention, Ryan is a generally popular figure. State Rep. Tim Jones of Eureka, expected to become the next speaker of the Missouri House, said in an interview that Ryan, age 42, is exciting the state’s conservative base.
“Paul Ryan brings focus, energy and drive,” Jones told the Beacon. “I believe he’s the first person of my generation to be on a presidential ticket, which is exciting to me and many of my peers.
“I also think he’s focused like a laser beam on the issues I think are truly important” in this election, said Jones. Those key issues, Jones said, include “a serious discussion of where we’ve been the last four years, how high our debt is, what is the appropriate level of spending the government should have. “
Another GOP delegate, Harvey Tettelbaum of California, Mo., said Ryan “adds youth and solid support from that part of the party that identifies with his economic policies and his approach to some of the larger issues like Medicare and Medicaid.
“He’s creative, he brings energy to the ticket and I think will allow a debate to occur on these issues that otherwise would not have occurred at the intellectual level he brings to the discussion.”
Former Missouri House Speaker Catherine Hanaway of Ladue, who is the state's RNC national committeewoman, said that Ryan brings “big ideas” and plenty of energy to the campaign, in Missouri and around the country.
And Missouri GOP chairman David Cole said Ryan “made a clear and concise case for new national leadership.” In a statement, Cole said the “spectacular speech . . . contrasted the last four years of economic mismanagement, skyrocketing debt, and wasted opportunity with the Romney-Ryan vision for a stronger, brighter future. “
St. Louis Public Radio 90.7 KWMU will air live NPR coverage of the Republican National Convention through Thurs., Aug. 30. Coverage will be from 7 – 10 p.m. The Nine Network will also broadcast the convention from 6-10 p.m. through Thursday.