NORFOLK, Va. — With the retired military battleship Wisconsin as a backdrop, Mitt Romney will announce Saturday that House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan will be his running mate, multiple news sources reported Friday night.
Speculation had swirled around Ryan, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty for many weeks, but aides kept the decision under wraps, insisting that the former Massachusetts governor’s supporters would be the first to know through a special smartphone app.
Instead it was NBC News that broke the choice late Friday night on the eve of a bus tour that will cross some of the most important battleground states: Virginia, Florida and Ohio.
Ryan, of Wisconsin, is a bold choice for the ever-cautious Romney campaign. The wonkish House budget chairman, 42, won the admiration of conservatives after championing major tax budget cuts while advocating deep changes to Medicare, the popular healthcare program for seniors — long viewed as a third rail of politics.
The choice promises a fierce debate over the size and role of government in America over the next few months, and Democrats are relishing the chance to take on that fight.
Bill Burton, a top official at the “super PAC” supporting President Obama, foreshadowed that fight on Twitter early Saturday morning: “If it’s really Ryan, Romney will have picked one of the only people who could have had an impact in the race. But, not the way he wants,” Burton tweeted.
Though Portman and Pawlenty would have been safer picks for Romney, Ryan’s candidacy could create a strong turnout of conservatives, which could be crucial in a close election.
Ryan has won broad admiration within the party for his emphasis on fiscal restraint and his efforts to turn the party back in that direction after the deficit swelled under the previous Republican president,George W. Bush. Ryan has also been a reliable party-line conservative on such key issues as abortion and immigration.
Democrats see a ripe opportunity, however, in Ryan’s plan, which Romney has endorsed, that would transform Medicare in part by giving seniors the option to switch to a voucher system, which would offer subsidies for the purchase of private insurance to those who turn 65 starting in 10 years.
Ryan’s plan would also cut $700 billion from the Medicaid budget, which provides healthcare to the poor, while lowering taxes. Romney has said he favors returning Medicaid dollars to the states to give them greater flexibility in how the money is spent.
Obama has called Ryan’s budget “thinly veiled social Darwinism” — a debate that is now likely to be the focus of the campaign.
Times staff writer Maeve Reston contributed to this report.