NORFOLK, Va. – Mitt Romney introduced Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his Republican vice presidential running mate on Saturday, turning to the architect of a deeply conservative and intensely controversial long-term budget plan that would remake Medicare and cut trillions in federal spending.
In the campaign to come, Republicans will present economic solutions “that are bold, specific and achievable,” Romney said as he presented his political partner. “We offer our commitment to help create 12 million new jobs and to bring better take-home pay to middle class families.”
The two men basked in the cheers of supporters in their made-for-television debut on a ticket hoping to make President Barack Obama’s first term his last. “I did not make a mistake with this guy,” Romney exulted.
“I am deeply excited and honored to join you as your running mate,” Ryan said in his first words at the podium.” He said that together, Republicans would eliminate the country’s “debt, doubt and despair.”
He said that “Regrettably, President Obama has become part of the problem, and Mitt Romney is the solution” to an economy that has yet to make a strong recovery from the worst recession in decades.
Ryan joins the ticket in a race defined from the beginning by a weak economy and high unemployment, measured most recently at 8.3 percent in July. Even so, recent national polls as well as surveys in several battleground states indicate a narrow advantage for Obama.
The GOP ticket made its debut at a naval museum in Norfolk, Va., the initial stop of a bus tour through four battleground states in as many days. It seemed likely a stop in Ryan’s home state would be added to previously scheduled appearances in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.
The USS Wisconsin, berthed at the museum, was the bunting-draped backdrop, a symbol of the nation’s military strength as well as an obvious reference to Ryan’s home state.
First Romney, then Ryan, a generation younger than his patron, jogged down the ship’s gangplank to the cheers of hundreds and the stirring soundtrack from the movie “Air Force One.”
As his family came on stage, Ryan knelt to embrace his daughter, Liza, 10, and sons Charles, 8, and Sam 7, before kissing his wife, Janna.
While word of Ryan’s selection leaked late Friday night and was posted by the campaign to its phone app before the speeches, Obama’s campaign withheld its reaction until the Republicans had spoken.
“The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires and deep cuts in education, from Head Start to college aid,” Jim Messina, the president’s campaign manager, said in a written statement.
“His plan would also end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors,” he said.
Ryan’s selection – as well as Romney’s own nomination – will be ratified by delegates to the Republican National Convention that begins on Aug. 27 in Tampa, Fla.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will be nominated for a second term at the Democratic convention the following week.
One campaign official said Romney settled on Ryan on Aug. 1, more than a week ago, and informed Beth Myers, the longtime aide who had shepherded the secretive process that led to the selection. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, not authorized to be named in providing details.
Romney and Ryan had an unannounced meeting last Sunday, and the congressman accepted the offer, campaign officials said.
In making his pick, Romney bypassed other potential running mates, including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Officials said he had called all five to notify them of his decision.
There was one unscripted moment, when Romney mistakenly introduced Ryan as the next president. He returned to the podium to say, “Every now and then I’m known to make a mistake. I didn’t make a mistake with this guy. But I can tell you this, he is going to be the next vice president of the United States.”
At 42, Ryan is a more than two decades younger than the 65-year-old Romney.
His conservative credentials are highly regarded by fellow Republican House members, while numerous polls during the primaries of winter and spring found Romney’s conservatism was suspect among the party’s core supporters.
A seven-term congressman, Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee, and primary author of conservative tax and spending blueprints that the tea party-infused Republican majority approved over vigorous Democratic opposition in 2011 and again in 2012.
They envision transforming Medicare into a program in which future seniors would receive government checks that they could use to purchase health insurance. Under the current program, the government directly pays doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.
Ryan and other supporters say the change is needed to prevent the program from financial calamity. Critics argue it would impose ever-increasing costs on seniors.
Other elements of the budget plan would cut projected spending for Medicaid, which provides health care for the poor, as well as food stamps, student loans and other social programs that Obama and Democrats have pledged to defend.
In all, it projects spending cuts of $5.3 trillion over a decade, and would cut future projected deficits substantially.
It also envisions a far-reaching overhaul of the tax code, of the sort Romney has promised.
Romney and Ryan appeared comfortable with each other when they campaigned together earlier in the year. The former governor eagerly shared the microphone with the younger man and they shared hamburgers at a fast food restaurant.
In making an endorsement before his state’s primary last spring, Ryan said, “I picked who I think is going to be the next president of the United States – I picked Mitt Romney. ... The moment is here. The country can be saved. It is not too late to get America back on the right track. ... It is not too late to save the American idea.”
Romney was the subject of an April Fools prank in which Ryan played a role. Romney showed up at a supposed campaign event where he heard Ryan calling him “the next president of the United States” – only to find the room nearly empty.
In recent days, conservative pundits have been urging Romney to choose Ryan in large part because of his authorship of the House-backed budget plan.
Republican National Committee finance chairman Ron Weiser of Michigan, said Friday night that Ryan’s selection would help Romney win Wisconsin and its 10 electoral votes in the fall. The state typically supports Democrats in presidential contests and Obama won it handily four years ago.
Ryan has worked in Washington for much of his adult life, a contrast to Romney, who frequently emphasizes his experience in business.
The congressman worked as an aide in Congress, and also was a speechwriter for the late Rep. Jack Kemp, who years earlier had been one of the driving forces behind across-the-board tax cuts that were at the heart of Ronald Reagan’s winning presidential campaign in 1980.
Ryan is also well-known for his fiendish physical fitness workouts.
His congressional district in southeast Wisconsin has something of a bipartisan voting record. Obama took 54 percent of the vote there in 2008, while the congressman received 64 percent in winning re-election.
Outside Ryan’s home in Janesville, Wis., on Friday night, there was nothing to suggest that the residence belonged to a vice presidential candidate. An Associated Press reporter who knocked just before midnight got no answer. There was a light on in a first-floor room of the two-story brick home atop a hill.
Earlier this week, a Ryan adviser said the congressman, his wife and their three children were preparing for a weeklong Colorado vacation.
Most of Romney’s staff learned of the planned announcement during a 10 p.m. EDT conference call Friday about an hour before the campaign issued a statement. The identity of Romney’s pick was not disclosed during the call. The campaign had promised that first news of the selection would be delivered via a phone app.
Earlier in the day, Romney’s campaign briefed reporters on the bus tour without mention of the impending vice presidential announcement.
The bus tour will take Romney through Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio. All are battlegrounds where Obama won in 2008. The states hold a combined 75 electoral votes, of the 270 needed to win election.