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Paul Ryan: bold, risky pick for Romney VP (+video)

Conservatives applaud Rep. Paul Ryan as the intellectual leader of the Republican Party. Liberals see Ryan as an ideologue who would destroy the nation’s social safety net.

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Before Ryan’s election to Congress, he worked for the late Jack Kemp, a towering conservative figure with bold ideas on inner-city outreach and onetime GOP vice presidential nominee, and William Bennett, former Education Security and another Republican thought leader.

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“While Ryan may be young, he is experienced and as House Budget chair he has a fiscal focus for the future,” says Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “His knowledge of complex economic matters and his ability to articulate them in a cogent way should help Romney make the case that the ticket is serious about getting America’s fiscal house in order and making America more competitive in the global economy.”

Mr. O’Connell adds that as independents learn more about Ryan, they will see his choice as a window into how Romney would analyze issues and tackle problems. But he acknowledges Romney’s risk, that Team Obama now has an opportunity to make the campaign a fight over entitlements.

Even among Republicans, there has been disagreement over the Ryan plan. In the GOP primaries, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich – hardly a moderate – raised eyebrows when he called the Ryan budget “right-wing social engineering,” a comment for which he later apologized.

Still, no one doubts Ryan’s bona fides as a student of policy.

Indeed, Romney’s choice of running mate stands in stark contrast to 2008 GOP nominee John McCain’s selection of then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. Her charisma initially wowed the nation, but many voters quickly became concerned she was not ready for prime time in her shaky mastery of national and international policy. When Ryan takes the debate stage against Vice President Joe Biden, there’s no doubt he will be able to do more than hold his own.

Among tea party groups, long skeptical of Romney but essential to his victory, the early reaction to Ryan was positive. It also showed their need to be reassured that Romney would really promote conservative principles and not revert to his previous posture as a Massachusetts moderate if elected president.

Ryan’s choice “tells us that Mitt Romney intends to take our current and future financial challenges seriously,” said Tom Zawistowski, president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, in a statement.

Ryan’s presence on the ticket also raises the possibility that Romney could win Wisconsin, a Democratic-leaning state in the biggest electoral battleground region of the country, the upper Midwest. Ryan also brings to the table a story of family struggle – his father died when he was 16 – that Romney does not have.

IN PICTURES: On the Campaign Trail with Mitt Romney

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