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Tea party claims 'seat at the table' with Romney's Paul Ryan pick for VP

Tea party activists expected to be snubbed at the GOP convention. But tea partyers say they're very encouraged by Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan – a leader among fiscal conservatives – to be his vice presidential running mate.

By Staff writer / August 11, 2012

Newly announced Republican vice presidential candidate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, addresses the crowd Saturday during a campaign event with Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, not shown, in Norfolk, Va.

Mary Altaffer/AP

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A few days ago, tea party activists like Allan Olson in Columbia, S.C., were expecting to be snubbed at the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., later this month.

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That all changed Saturday, when Mitt Romney picked as his vice presidential running mate US Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a key Obama sparring partner on the Hill who had been one of two possible candidates with majority support among tea partyers, according to a Tea Party Express survey of 17,000 people.

While other candidates – including Sens. Rand Paul and Marco Rubio – may have been more identifiable as the avant-garde of the antitax protest movement, the selection of Mr. Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, shows Mr. Romney’s overtures to the same fiscal conservatives who sought a “Not Romney” in the primaries were not ploys. At the same time, the pick is a big gamble on whether the American people are really ready for a substantive debate about conservative reform of Washington.

“The Ryan pick gives the tea party a seat at the table, and that’s why I’m so encouraged,” Mr. Olson says. “I’m surprised and very, very much encouraged. Just when I thought Romney was stale, he goes and does something like this.”

To many tea party conservatives, Ryan is a near-perfect pick: While good on the stump, he won’t overshadow Romney himself. But he gives Romney a sounding board for the party’s more conservative ideas, while bringing extensive budget experience to the ticket – and putting focus on the fact that the federal government has now gone 1,200 days without a budget as the national debt has ticked up above $15 trillion.

Moreover, Ryan’s budget ideas are likely to become the meat of campaign policy debates, causing Bill Kristol and Stephen Hayes at the conservative Weekly Standard to quip, “If Ryan’s budget is going to be a central part of the debate over the next three months, who better to explain and defend it than Paul Ryan?”

Ryan, who has little business experience outside of Washington, was heavily influenced by the literary work of Ayn Rand, whose criticisms of collectivism have framed the larger opposition to President Obama for many tea party activists.

Ryan’s push for massive reforms to entitlement programs and for tax cuts has earned him grudging respect across the aisle as well, although Democrats are sure to paint his ideas as tax cuts for wealthy people to the detriment of the poor – the so-called “Romney Hood” meme.

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