NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Republican Mitt Romney anointed Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, an ardent conservative and devoted budget cutter, as his vice presidential running mate on Saturday, and the two men immediately embarked on a tour of campaign battleground states vowing to defeat President Barack Obama and repair the long-ailing U.S. economy.
America is “a nation facing debt, doubt and despair,” and a transformative change in leadership is vital, Ryan declared to a flag-waving crowd in the first moments after Romney introduced him as his partner for the fall campaign.
“Regrettably, President Obama has become part of the problem… and Mitt Romney is the solution,” said the seven-term lawmaker, who at 42 is a generation younger than Romney, 65. Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee, the chief architect of deeply controversial budget plans and widely viewed by Republican lawmakers as an intellectual leader within the party.
The two Republican ticket mates basked in the cheers of supporters in a made-for-television debut on a ticket hoping to make Obama’s first term his last. “I did not make a mistake with this guy,” Romney exulted.
Romney declared that in the campaign to come, Republicans will present economic solutions “that are bold, specific and achievable. … We offer our commitment to help create 12 million new jobs and to bring better take-home pay to middle class families.”
The party establishment, rank-and-file conservatives and tea party groups all cheered the pick made by Romney, whose own record as a moderate during his term as Massachusetts governor less than a decade ago made his march to the presidential nomination an uneven one.
Obama’s campaign didn’t wait long to respond. It criticized the budget blueprints Ryan has authored, particularly his recommendations to fundamentally remake Medicare and cut $5.3 trillion in government spending over the coming decade.
Ryan joins a race that has been defined from the beginning by a weak economy and high unemployment, measured most recently at 8.3 percent in July. Even so, recent national polls as well as surveys in several battleground states indicate a narrow advantage for Obama.
While Romney’s pick unified Republicans, the impact in swing states such as Florida, Iowa and Pennsylvania was an open question. All are home to large numbers of seniors whose reaction to Ryan’s prescription for Medicare is certain to be tested by Democrats.
Ryan’s selection as well as Romney’s own nomination will be ratified by delegates to the Republican National Convention that begins on Aug. 27 in Tampa, Fla.
Romney and Ryan had an unannounced meeting last Sunday, and the congressman accepted the offer, campaign officials said.
Asked during the day if accepting the offer was an easy decision, Ryan replied, “It was, it was, we’ve got to save the country.”
“I am deeply excited and honored to join you as your running mate,” Ryan said in his first words at Romney’s side.
Democrats took a dim view of Ryan’s record.
“The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires and deep cuts in education, from Head Start to college aid,” Jim Messina, the president’s campaign manager, said in a written statement.
“His plan would also end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors.”
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan is primary author of conservative tax and spending blueprints that the tea party-infused Republican majority approved over vigorous Democratic opposition in 2011 and again in 2012.
They envision transforming Medicare into a program in which future seniors would receive government checks that they could use to purchase health insurance. Under the current program, the government directly pays doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.
Ryan and other supporters say the change is needed to prevent the program from financial calamity. Critics argue it would impose ever-increasing costs on seniors.
Other elements of the budget plan would cut projected spending for Medicaid, which provides health care for the poor, as well as food stamps, student loans and other social programs that Obama and Democrats have pledged to defend.
In all, it projects spending cuts of $5.3 trillion over a decade, and would cut future projected deficits substantially.
It also envisions a far-reaching overhaul of the tax code of the sort Romney has promised.
Ryan has worked in Washington for much of his adult life, a contrast to Romney, who frequently emphasizes his experience in business. He is also well-known for his fiendish physical fitness workouts. He is a Roman Catholic.