Democrat debate over Romney's VP pick begins

The battle over Paul Ryan raged in earnest today, with Democrats determined to deprive Mitt Romney of a political dividend for his surprising pick for a vice presidential running mate.

As the Republican ticket bonded in North Carolina, a day after the big announcement, President Barack Obama's aides took to the task of dismantling the Wisconsin's lawmaker's record with relish.

It may have been decades since a running mate has delivered a state to his boss, yet the selection of a number two offers voters a window into a presidential candidate's character and thinking.

Both sides understand the potential for a bad vice presidential pick to sap a campaign four years after John McCain electrified conservatives by choosing Sarah Palin, only to see her wither in the national spotlight.

Democrats portrayed Ryan as an extreme, budget-cutting friend of the rich who would gut beloved social programs, laying down a new line of attack ahead of the November 6 election.

Republicans saw a chance to reframe a race that had drifted away from Romney, with several polls showing the president up by seven to nine points.

Obama adviser David Axelrod delivered a searing assault on Ryan.

"It is a pick that is meant to thrill the most strident voices in the Republican Party, but it is one that should trouble everyone else," he said told ABC's "This Week."

Axelrod sought to brand the Ryan-Romney ticket as ideologically extreme and bent on enriching the already wealthy while hurting the middle class, seeking to nudge the Republican ticket away from the crucial political center.

He charged that Ryan was determined to turn the government-run Medicare health care system for seniors into a voucher scheme that leaves patients at the mercy of a predatory insurance industry.

Ryan was also bent on slashing education spending and backed a radical reform of the Social Security pensions system, Axelrod said, with one eye on the key seniors vote in important swing states like Florida.

"He is outside the mainstream but this is a defining choice for Mitt Romney. And now it's a clarifying choice for the American people," Obama's adviser added.

Axelrod's remarks appeared to be the blueprint for coming future attacks by the campaign, likely to be driven home in a more subtle way in Obama's own rhetoric and with hard-hitting intensity in campaign advertising.

Other Democrats used Ryan as a prism to attack Romney, who has come under fire for his tax plan that critics say would hurt the middle class and his own refusal to release more than two years of personal tax returns.

"What Mitt Romney has done is pick somebody who has an economic plan and a budget plan that is great for people like Mitt Romney," top Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen told CNN.

Obama has yet to weigh in personally on Ryan's selection, but has several chances later Sunday in a day of fundraisers in his hometown of Chicago, which could net around $6 million.

Romney's selection of Ryan came at a moment when the momentum when Obama appeared to have momentum, after his character assault on the Republican and improving economic numbers.

Ryan, an intellectual engine of conservatism, will likely energize a Republican base vote that was lukewarm toward Romney.

Driving home the point, Romney campaign operatives tweeted pictures of the large crowd and overflow gathering at Romney's rally with Ryan in North Carolina.

Prominent Republicans meanwhile took to the talk shows to shape news coverage of Romney's "bold" pick in the run-up to the Republican National Convention later this month.

They highlighted what they see as the principled ideas of Ryan, who styles himself as a lawmaker unafraid of asking tough questions about the viability of costly social programs in the future.

For Republicans, cuts in government spending and entitlement obligations are the only path to future fiscal recovery. They charge that Obama's recovery policies are ineffective, ran up the deficit and made the economy worse.

Supporters also said Ryan would bringing intellectual and political vigor to a ticket critics had complained was lacking vision, a philosophical anchor and excitement.

"In choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has confirmed he intends to run a campaign based on ideas to challenge a president who has no new ideas, is running away from his record and is relying instead on smears, distractions and demagoguery," said South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told NBC's "Meet the Press" that the choice of Ryan over more moderate candidates, showed Romney had "leadership and courage."

-AFP

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