Moreover, Rubio has probably been subject to more intense critical scrutiny than anyone else Romney is considering. In his 2010 race, Rubio was the subject of massive opposition research conducted by his Republican opponent, the sitting governor of Florida, Charlie Crist; the National Republican Senatorial Committee (which supported Crist); his Democratic opponent, Representative Kendrick Meek; and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The campaign was covered extensively in the Florida press and nationally. Rubio sat for interviews or debates with David Gregory, Candy Crowley, Chris Wallace, Bob Schieffer, and many others. More recently, Rubio was the subject of a book by a Washington Post reporter who uncovered nothing that would disqualify him from higher office. Indeed, the book was on balance flattering. And though Rubio’s name has been mentioned in connection with the case against former Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer, a nearly two-year investigation by the Florida Ethics Commission found that Rubio had done nothing wrong. Rubio would also have to expect questions about his troubled friend David Rivera. But the charge here is only one of too much loyalty to a friend, not of wrongdoing on Rubio’s part.
The moment he’s picked, Rubio will become by far the most prominent Hispanic politician in the country. And in a contest largely about competing visions of the American dream, against a president who has minimized the importance of hard work as a road to success, Rubio’s personal story, of a father who worked as a bartender and a mother as a maid to provide opportunities for their children, would provide a powerful counterargument.
The case for Paul Ryan is equally compelling. Since 1999, Ryan has represented a swing district in southeastern Wisconsin—a seat held for two decades by Democrat Les Aspin. And even as he has undertaken a crusade to reform the entitlement programs thought for so long to be politically untouchable, Ryan has won reelection in his purple district with more than 60 percent of the vote six consecutive times. Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, who believes that Obama will win Wisconsin, nonetheless acknowledged last week that putting Ryan on the ticket would make “the southeastern part of the state probably more competitive.”
A recent PPP poll seems to confirm this. President Obama leads Mitt Romney in Wisconsin 50-44 percent and is, according to the accompanying analysis, “the clear favorite to win the state.” But, the analysis continues, “one thing that could make this state look like much more of a toss up is if Romney chooses Paul Ryan as his running mate.” In that scenario, Obama’s lead shrinks to just 47-46 percent. “Ryan’s presence has the effect of further unifying the GOP base around Romney and also helping to bring some independent voters into the fold.” Romney’s internal polling, we are told, shows a similar shift in Wisconsin with Ryan on the ticket.
Like Rubio, Ryan has appeal beyond his home state. As Rubio would help with a key demographic group, Hispanics, Ryan would help in key states in the Midwest. And he has national appeal. Earlier this spring, he traveled around the country with RNC chairman Reince Priebus raising some $21 million for the RNC Presidential Trust. Ryan has raised $4.2 million for his congressional race this year and $4.3 million for his Prosperity PAC—with contributions coming from all 50 states. That’s more money than some Republican presidential candidates raised.
And, of course, putting Ryan on the ticket would ensure that the presidential race is a contest of ideas, not just personalities. In a country where conservatives outnumber liberals two-to-one and where President Obama is thought to be more likable than Mitt Romney by huge margins (+30 according to USA Today/Gallup, +38 in the Washington Post/ABC poll), this strikes us as a good idea.
Of course Democrats will demagogue the entitlement reform proposals in Ryan’s budget. But they’re going to do that anyway. Romney and Republicans already own those reforms—97 percent of congressional Republicans voted for them, and Romney has embraced them without much qualification. “I think it’d be marvelous if the Senate were to pick up Paul Ryan’s budget and adopt it and pass it along to the president,” he said in early April. In late March he declared: “I’m very supportive of the Ryan budget.”
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?