THE PAUL Ryan vice presidential pick was a very strategic move on the part of the Mitt Romney campaign.
This year's presidential election will come down to three things: the economy, demographics and fundraising. Obama is obviously weak on the economy but has a strong advantage on demographics – voter support of various groups – that was shown in the last presidential election and is keeping him up in the polls this time. So far, this election has not been about the economy – otherwise Obama would be far down in the polls. Fundraising could end up being the difference between winning and losing.
This is where the Ryan strategy comes in.
Ryan helps Romney with the economy, demographics and fundraising. First, Ryan is synonymous with economic policy. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Ryan's ideas, he brings to the campaign a serious debate on the economy. Romney desperately needs to get the political dialogue back to the economy, and Ryan's selection is designed to do just that.
Even more important, the Ryan selection is about demographics. In order for Romney to win in November, he needs to overcome Obama's demographic advantage – especially his strong support from Latinos, African-Americans, women and youths. The only way to do that is to motivate the conservative base to come out in droves in November. Ryan provides that necessary energy with that constituency. He is a conservative rock star. He is the face of the future of the Republican Party. He is the chance to rebrand conservatism in America.
This tactic is a throwback to the Karl Rove playbook that successfully elected George W. Bush twice, but especially in 2004. The Bush campaign was able to generate large conservative turnouts – even new voters – particularly through microtargeting that voting bloc. It is a numbers game, and Paul Ryan will be an important part of the equation. Ryan plays very well with the conservative base and will be vital in getting them out to vote, especially in swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.
In other words, Ryan was not brought in to win over Democrats and independents – although some national deficit-minded ones will be attracted to him. He was brought in to make voters feel good about the conservative brand and to get large numbers of conservatives to the polls on election night. Since Ryan and Romney agree on almost all policy issues, Ryan doesn't bring anything new policy-wise to the ticket that will attract new voters. But what Ryan does do is give more credibility to Romney's conservativism, which will energize the Republican base for Romney's campaign.
And most important, the Ryan pick is about fundraising. Romney knows he needs to spend big to unseat an incumbent president with high likeability. In order to do so, major fundraising is key. Ryan's consistent conservativism will open big donor wallets. This makes the Obama campaign the most nervous about the Ryan selection.
It is a bit too early to tell if it is a game changer. But Ryan's selection could prove to change the election from one that is simply a referendum on the president to one that is a choice between two very distinct visions for America. If it is a game changer in that way, it is a big risk on Romney's part – a risk he might have needed to take since he has been down in the polls.
In the end, a choice election will make the campaign season much more interesting and pertinent for all Americans.
Ryan's selection could prove to change the election from one that is simply a
referendum on the president to one that is a choice between two very distinct visions for America.
Jeffrey Brauer is a professor of political science at Keystone College in La Plume.