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Analysis: A bold but risky choice for running mate

By Kevin Bohn, CNN Senior Producer
August 11, 2012 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rep. Paul Ryan admits he is the poster child for controversial proposals
  • CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger calls Ryan "a risky choice that could hurt Romney"
  • Leading conservative voices pushed Romney this week to be bold

Washington (CNN) -- Just a few minutes after 7 a.m. on Saturday, Mitt Romney took a step many political experts did not think he would -- choosing a controversial and bold running mate and making one of the most important announcements of his campaign at a time many did not expect.

Rep. Paul Ryan admits that he is the poster child for controversial proposals to reform the nation's entitlement programs: For workers now under the age of 55, seniors would be given the option of choosing a private program instead of the traditional Medicare program and would receive money to offset the premium they have to pay. Federal spending for Medicaid would be sent to the states to manage, and the Social Security retirement age would gradually be raised to 70.

Because of those positions and his full-throttled defense of them, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger calls the pick "a risky choice that could hurt Mitt Romney" and also said it "may be too risky, but is bold."

Republican consultant Ford O'Connell said making a bold choice like Ryan was necessary.

Romney announces Ryan as his running mate

How Romney chose his running mate
Paul Ryan: I'm a policy person
Ryan: Romney is the man for this moment
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left, jokes with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan Saturday, August 11, after announcing him as his running mate at a campaign event on the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, left, jokes with Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan Saturday, August 11, after announcing him as his running mate at a campaign event on the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia.
Romney and Ryan set as Republican ticket
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Romney and Ryan set as Republican ticket Romney and Ryan set as Republican ticket

"With Mitt Romney losing ground to President Obama in the polls, I don't see the selection of Paul Ryan as 'risky,' I see the choice as bold and necessary," O'Connell wrote in an email to CNN. "Ryan will certainly help Romney shore up his support with the GOP base, and it will send a clear message to independent voters that Romney is serious about getting the country's fiscal house in order and putting Americans back to work."

CNN senior political analyst David Gergen says the Ryan pick is, "an opportunity for the Romney campaign to go on the offense."

Ryan is seen as a plainspoken Midwesterner who doesn't back down from positions.

Democratic attacks on Ryan focus on changes to Medicare and Medicaid

"If you don't address these issues now, they're going to steamroll us as a country. And the issue is the more you delay fixing these problems, the much uglier the solutions are going to be," Ryan told Borger in an interview last year. "We literally go about $10 trillion deeper in the hole of our unfunded government promises every year we delay fixing the problem."

Several leading conservative voices, including the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal, had pushed Romney this week to be bold.

"The case for Mr. Ryan is that he best exemplifies the nature and stakes of this election. More than any other politician, the House Budget Chairman has defined those stakes well as a generational choice about the role of government and whether America will once again become a growth economy or sink into interest-group dominated decline," the Journal said in an editorial on Thursday.

The Journal argued that a Ryan choice would help the Republicans.

Opinion: How Ryan could help Romney

"The larger strategic point is that Mr. Romney's best chance for victory is to make this a big election over big issues. Mr. Obama and the Democrats want to make this a small election over small things -- Mitt's taxes, his wealth, Bain Capital. As the last two months have shown, Mr. Romney will lose that kind of election. To win, Mr. Romney and the Republicans have to rise above those smaller issues and cast the choice as one about the overall direction and future of the country."

Ryan, a 42-year-old fitness freak, also brings a youthful vigor to the campaign and is an energetic campaigner and debater. He jogged tieless onto the stage on Saturday as Romney introduced him to a cheering crowd.

But there will be those who question whether a House member whose primary focus has been fiscal issues is ready to be commander-in-chief.

Obama's campaign quickly fired off a statement looking to define the contrasts in the campaign: The Republican ticket favors tax cuts for the wealthy while putting a greater burden on the middle class, it would gut Medicare and shift costs to the elderly, and it would make deep cuts in education.

As statement from Obama campaign manager Jim Messina also invoked the B-word:

"As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes," Messina wrote.

Exclusive: How Romney chose his running mate

Besides the choice of who, political analysts also call the timing of the Ryan announcement bold.

While most vice presidential picks have been announced only days before the Republican convention, Romney is unveiling his ticket -- which the campaign is calling "America's Comeback Team" -- more than two weeks before the GOP gathers in Tampa, Florida. Some experts have said such an early choice would diminish any bump in the polls the campaign might see.

The Romney campaign argues that the continuous news environment in the nation now means old rules may not apply. It is hoping that Ryan's unveiling will get a lot of positive coverage as it couples the announcement with a bus tour of swing states through Tuesday.

Romney's aides hope the coverage will give the campaign a break from some of the bad press it has gotten over the last week following gaffes during his tour of Europe and Israel, relentless calls for Romney to release more of his tax returns and falling poll numbers.

How do you feel about Romney selecting Ryan as his running mate? Let us know on CNN iReport.

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