Yesterday's announcement by presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney that Rep. Paul Ryan will be his running mate has been met with a wide array of predictable responses. Depending on your perspective, the choice of Ryan was either a bold move that could push the GOP ticket to Pennsylvania Ave. or a hail-Mary pass thrown in an effort to revive in flagging milquetoast campaign.
Regardless of perspective, the choice of Ryan is certain to work its way into one of the nation's most closely watched congressional race that is centered right here in Elk Grove - the battle between incumbent Republican Dan Lungren and Democrat challenger Dr. Ami Bera for California's Third Congressional District.
For the last several weeks Democratic spin masters have salivated at the prospect of having Ryan paired with Romney. The agenda that Ryan brings to the ticket in his so-called Roadmap budget includes a host of budget cutting moves most notably the widely cited conversion of Medicare to a vouchers-based system for future beneficiaries.
Republican spinners laud Ryan for his leadership and willingness to take on necessary though political thorny unpopular discussion of reforming various government social programs from Social Security to Medicare. With this selection Romney embraces (or forced) the Ryan budget proposal and is obviously prepared to make it the centerpiece of his previously ambiguous platform.
For Lungren, the selection of Ryan should could affect his campaign strategy substantially. While an early supporter of the Ryan Roadmap, Lungren said at an Elk Grove townhall meeting in 2010 that he supported the Ryan budget because "He [Ryan] wants to save the programs," the topic now is front and center on both the Presidential and competitive congressional races.
Lungren will have to continue to address a topic that Bera and the various PAC's support him will hammer away at - the widely popular Medicare program. Sensing this vulnerability, coincidentally a Lungren franking mailer was received in the last two days where Lungren says "I do not support changes in coverage for anyone 55 or older."
This perception has been a major weakness in Ryan's and by default Lungren's position on the Roadmap. Lungren will now find this formerly wonkish discussion on Ryan's plan will be at the forefront of the Presidential election and every competitive congressional race.
For Bera, the ascension of Ryan to the top of the ticket provides him a opportunity to make his bid a referendum on Ryan and Romney's budget plan. National polls have regularly shown that Ryan's plan to be a loser, particularly with older voters - the very group that consistently votes.
In a statement issued yesterday Bera immediately pointed to proposed Medicare changes in Ryan's plan.
"Rather than protect Medicare, their plan seeks to preserve $40 billion in tax subsidies for Big Oil and massively expand the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. As a doctor, I know you need to have the right diagnosis first and the Ryan-Lungren plan doesn't even come close. In Congress, I will fight to balance the budget the right way, without abandoning our seniors."
Bera and the Super Pac's supporting him will undoubtedly hammer away on this subject. The task for Bera will be to translate the discontent for the Ryan plan into turnout. Given that California is a solidly Blue state, Democratic voters may not be sufficiently motivated to vote as they were in 2008 and that should be a major concern for the Bera campaign.
If we are to believe what pollsters say about the Ryan plan, Lungren and his Super Pac's will need to redirect the conversations away from the Medicare or Social Security changes and simply try to frame Bera as a "tax and spend" politician out of touch with the voters of the district. It will be much harder for Lungren given the new demographics of the district and the slight Democratic registration advantage compared to 2010, but it can be done.
While Californians will not hear or see much of the vitriol of the Obama-Romney race as both candidates will spend their money elsewhere, voters in the Third District will be "treated" to a proxy fight with Bera and Lungren being the surrogates.
Side note: We're not sure who made the decision as to the timing of the Ryan announcement, but they ought to have their credentials examined. Leak it Friday night for a Saturday morning announcement during the final days of the Olympics. Really?
Weekend announcements are meant meant for document dumps by embattled politicians. Makes you wonder the reasoning behind this.