Which side is winning the battle to define Paul Ryan?
So far, polls show little to no bounce for Mitt Romney since he named Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. The wisdom of adding Ryan to the ticket could be decided by how well he and Romney resolve their unsettled message on Medicare.
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Would the public see him as a dynamic reformer, ready to help Mr. Romney steer the nation away from insolvency and onto a robust fiscal and economic path? Or would voters see him as a conservative ideologue, ready to undo the social safety net and hand tax cuts to the rich?
Chances are, it depends on where one already stands. Most likely, voters already know which team they’ll support in November, and judging by the polls, the selection of Mr. Ryan has barely made a dent in what is shaping up to be a close race. Gallup Daily tracking shows Romney at 47 percent, compared with 46 percent for the four days before he named Ryan. President Obama has held steady at 45 percent. Gallup’s 1-point bump is in line with the average of polls taken since Saturday.
“This is a below-average ‘bounce’ for the selection of a vice presidential candidate,” writes Nate Silver, the numbers-crunching blogger at The New York Times. ”In past elections, the bounce has averaged in the neighborhood of 4 percentage points instead.”
The Obama campaign is predictably gleeful, and held a conference call Thursday to highlight the polls – including a YouGov poll that showed Mr. Obama picking up a percentage point since the Ryan news. But it’s early in the season, and many voters are still tuning in to this new figure on the national stage.
In fact, some analysts suggest that Romney was not even aiming for a splashy debut of his running mate. Making the announcement on a Saturday morning on the final weekend of the Summer Olympics more than two weeks before the start of the Republican convention was not a typical rollout. Perhaps the goal was to wow activists, who already know about Ryan and his bold conservative vision, and let the rest of the electorate get to know Ryan over time.
At the introductory event in Norfolk, Va., last Saturday, Romney emphasized character and leadership in describing Ryan. He also invoked key touchstones: Ryan's Catholicism, his father’s early death, his wife and children, his Janesville, Wis., roots.
“In a city that is far too often characterized by pettiness and personal attacks, Paul Ryan is a shining exception,” Romney said. “He does not demonize his opponents. He understands that honorable people can have honest differences.”
Likewise, Democrats are not trying to demonize Ryan personally. They are granting that he is personally likable – a quality that Romney has struggled to project – and instead are zeroing in on his budget plan.