It’s been a week since Mitt Romney made what virtually all pundits called a “bold choice,” picking Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. That scene at the battleship USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Va., thrilled Republicans yet to fully embrace Mr. Romney and energized Democrats eager to take on this notably conservative figure who’d become a major congressional foe as chairman of the House Budget Committee.
It’s put new spring in Romney’s typically cautious, measured step. And with Mr. Ryan drawing overflow crowds at campaign events, it’s loosened the wallets of Republican Party contributors.
In those seven days, we’ve learned more about Mr. Ryan. His personal finances, for example.
He and his wife Janna (a tax attorney) paid an effective tax rate of 15.9 percent in 2010 and 20 percent in 2011. His financial disclosure forms show a net worth of more than $4 million and total assets ranging up to $7 million – far more than most Americans but far less than Mr. Romney’s estimated $250 million.
While Romney and Ryan champion the private sector over government, the Ryan family business, which goes back generations, has been built to a large extent on government contracts.
“A current search of Defense Department contracts suggests that ‘Ryan Incorporated Central’ has had at least 22 defense contracts with the federal government since 1996, including one from 1996 worth $5.6 million,” Salon reports. “What’s funny is that Mr. Anti-Spending secured millions in earmarks for his home state of Wisconsin, including, among other things, $3.3 million for highway projects. And Ryan voted to preserve $40 billion in special subsidies for big oil, an industry in which, it so happens, Ryan and his wife hold ownership stakes.”
Try as his might, Romney himself continued to have a tough time getting back on message. Campaign charge and counter-charge on Medicare – something Ryan wanted to turn into a voucher program – got in the way of talking about the economy. And by week’s end, much of the political chatter centered on Romney’s income taxes.
Addressing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s provocative suggestion that Romney might not have paid any taxes in recent years due to offshore accounts and other tax-avoidance schemes, Romney finally declared that he had paid a federal income tax rate of at least 13 percent in each of the past 10 years. Still, he refuses to release more than two years’ of tax forms (2010 and 2011).
The impression left is that Romney has something to hide.
So has Ryan’s presence given the ticket the typical bounce in the polls?
Apparently not, or at least not much.
Gallup’s first cut shows 39 percent of those surveyed rating the Ryan pick as “excellent” or “pretty good” with 42 percent saying it was only “fair” or “poor.”
“In comparison, that’s one of the lower ratings on that scale that we’ve obtained,” says Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor-in-chief. Four years ago, Sarah Palin (46-37 percent) and Joe Biden (47-33 percent) did better when their selection was announced, and the (as it turns out) controversial former governor of Alaska initially had a better favorability rating than Ryan has today.
Polling guru Nate Silver, who writes the FiveThirtyEight blog at the New York Times, notes that a set of 11 new polls gives Romney a net gain of one percentage point potentially attributable to Ryan’s joining the ticket.
“This is a below-average ‘bounce’ for the selection of a vice presidential candidate,” he wrote this week. “In past elections, the bounce has averaged in the neighborhood of 4 percentage points instead.”
By definition, any “bounce” is temporary. And while Romney’s position in most polls pitted against Obama has been improving since he nailed down the GOP nomination, he’s still the underdog, according to Mr. Silver’s calculation: 238 predicted electoral votes to Obama’s 300 (270 needed to win), and a 30.4 percent chance of winning compared to Obama’s 69.6 percent.
But it’s just been a week since Paul Ryan became Mitt Romney’s running mate. A lot can happen in the nine days between now and the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., and a lot more can happen between then and Election Day.