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Paul Ryan's strengths and weaknesses

11:12 AM, Aug 11, 2012   |    comments
US Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan(C), along with his daughter Liza, prepare to board the campaign bus after announcing Ryan as his vice presidential running mate during a campaign rally at the Nauticus Museum after touring the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk, Virginia, August 11, 2012. Romney and his new running mate embark on the first day of a 4-day bus trip that will take the White House hopefuls to 4 key swing s
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NBC News -- Here is First Read's looks at the strengths and weaknesses Ryan would bring the GOP presidential ticket.

Strengths:

- As chairman of the House Budget Committee, the 42-year-old Ryan is a young rising star in the GOP, and has become their chief spokesman when it comes to reducing the deficit and debt.

- Romney picking Ryan as his running mate would signal that he's doubling down on an austerity/deficit-reduction message. Indeed, while the Obama campaign and Democrats could point to visible improvements with the economy over the past three years (a lower unemployment rate, stronger GDP growth), there hasn't been much progress in reducing the deficit. The deficit was $1.4 trillion in FY '09; $1.3 trillion in '10; $1.5 trillion in '11 (projected); and $1.1 billion in '12 (projected).

- Ryan hails from a battleground state -- Wisconsin -- where polls show Romney currently trailing Obama. Obama actually won Ryan's district in 2008, 51%-47%.

- Comfort level: When Romney campaigned with Ryan in the lead-up to the April 3 Wisconsin primary, the two men demonstrated a rapport that we haven't seen with other Romney surrogates.

- He would be a person who could please both the conservative intelligentsia and the Tea Party base.

Weaknesses:

- Ryan's budget plan has become a lightning rod, and it will be a focus of Democratic attacks in the fall. The most controversial component of the plan is that it significantly transforms Medicare, which is regarded as the government's most popular program.

- In addition to Medicare, Ryan was one of the driving forces to partially privatize Social Security after George W. Bush's victory in the 2004 presidential election.

- There are also holes in Ryan's budget-hawk armor: He voted for some of the biggest drivers of the deficit/debt -- the Bush tax cuts, the Iraq war, and the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, all of which weren't paid for. Moreover, Ryan voted against the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles recommendations.

- Has never held statewide office and has no foreign-policy experience. Both could be liabilities.

- As a member of Congress, Ryan currently works in -- and is a relatively high-profile member of -- one of America's least popular institutions.

- And while Romney has criticized Obama for not having private-sector experience, the same is largely true of Ryan: As the New Yorker has written, Ryan briefly worked for his family's business as a "marketing consultant," but most of his adult life has been spent as a congressman, congressional aide, or speechwriter/analyst at Jack Kemp's Empower America think tank.

NBC's Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro

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