Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan greets supporters after US Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announced 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 states, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio. AFP
With Mitt Romney's pick of Rep. Paul Ryan to be his Republican running mate, Obama surrogates immediately sought to define the congressman as a wild-eyed ideologue set on slashing Medicare and other popular entitlement programs.
Ryan is a darling of both the GOP's Tea Party wing and establishment fiscal conservatives for his long-standing call for a deep overhaul of government entitlement programs. But Democrats have also held up the House Budget Committee chairman as the poster boy for a GOP agenda they contend favors the wealthy over the middle class.
The Obama campaign charged that Ryan, as architect of the GOP House budget plan, has advocated additional tax cuts for millionaires and deep cuts in education programs and would turn Medicare into a voucher system.
"As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy," the Obama campaign said in a statement. "Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes."
Rep. Steve Israel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called the Romney-Ryan ticket "a match made in millionaires heaven" and telegraphed that Democrats plan to home in on Ryan's Medicare plan
"They'll be a nightmare for seniors who've earned their Medicare benefits," Israel said. "For the last 18 months, we've said Republicans will have to defend the indefensible - their vote to end Medicare."
Hours before the pick was made official by the Romney campaign, Bill Burton- a former White House spokesman and co-founder of the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action - crowed in a post on Twitter that the pick was a mistake.
"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 posted.
In addition to the Medicare debate, liberal groups lashed out against Ryan as hostile to women for voting to end funding of Planned Parenthood and veterans for backing cuts to the Department of Veterans of Affairs.
"The more that women learn about Mitt Romney's positions, the more troubled they are by his candidacy," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee further shows why he is out of touch and wrong for women."
Adam Green, the co-founder of the liberal Progressive Change Campaign Committee, called the pick a "major unforced error."
"It gives President Obama and Democrats a chance to draw a clear contrast in 2012 by promising not to cut one penny from Medicare or Social Security benefits," Green said. "If Democrats win in a landslide, this was the game changer."
Ryan, the chairman of House Budget Committee, is the author of deficit-cutting plan that calls for, in part, converting Medicare into a voucher system for Americans under the age of 55. While Obama has praised Ryan as a "serious" thinker, he's slammed the Ryan budget plan in a tart assessment in April.
"There's nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don't have any clout on Capitol Hill," Obama said in a speech in Washington, where Ryan was in the audience.
The Obama campaign's effort to define Ryan as hostile to the middle class began earlier this summer, and the president's backers have repeatedly noted Romney's embrace of Ryan's budget.
Last month, Jon Soltz, chairman of the Democratic-leaning group VoteVets, told reporters that Romney's backing of the Ryan budget demonstrated a lack of understanding of what is important to veterans.
"I would have appreciated some insight into his support of the Paul Ryan budget, which cuts $11 billion in spending - a 13 percent cut from what the president is proposing at a time we've got obviously backlogs."
Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia, said the Obama campaign and Democrats are "salivating" over the chance to take on Ryan.
Sabato said that a pick of either Sen. Rob Portman, of Ohio, or Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, could have put additional pressure on Obama in a big battleground state. But even with Ryan on the ticket, Sabato said he believes Wisconsin still leans Democratic.
"They are going to focus relentlessly on Medicare and other aspects of Ryan's budget," Sabato said. "Democrats are relieved that the choice wasn't Portman or Rubio. They could have brought big states with them. Ryan is a giant question mark for most people, and the battle begins to define him."
Aamer Madhani and Catalina Camia, USA TODAY