When Mitt Romney chose Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate Saturday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had one message for Republican congressional hopefuls: “Bring it on.” That’s how the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee began a weekend memo to supporters.
The budget Ryan drafted in his capacity as chairman of the House Budget Committee, which proposed significant cuts to Medicare and other entitlement programs, was immediately a lightning rod for Democrats’ criticisms. Now they plan to make this an issue again.
“With Mitt Romney naming Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, the Republican budget authored by Ryan is now the ticket mate for every Republican in a Congressional race this November,” the DCCC’s memo states.
“From now until Election Day, Democrats will be on offense and seizing the opportunity to run and win on the issue of the Ryan budget that protects millionaires and special interests, while hurting Medicare for seniors.”
Within hours of Romney’s vice presidential announcement, the DCCC had already blasted out similar attacks targeting “70 vulnerable House Republicans” for what the organization called a “Republican budget that ends Medicare.”
Messaging like this has already proved effective. It’s largely credited for the 2011 upset win by Democrat Kathy Hochul in a special election. Her upstate New York district leaned Republican.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, on the other hand, is using the new national focus on Medicare to attack President Obama’s health care reform in the run-up to three future presidential debates.
“They’re coming. Democrats are asking for them. They want a debate about ObamaCare’s $700 billion in Medicare cuts, and they are about to get it,” the NRCC said in an email blast Monday. The email pointed to ads the RCCC had run in 2010 against Democrats who were later defeated.
Already, the NRCC is taking swings at Hochul, the poster-child for successful attacks on the Ryan Budget.
“Kathy Hochul voted to keep more than $740 billion in cuts to Western New Yorkers Medicare to fund a government takeover of healthcare. Hochul’s plan pushes Medicare toward bankruptcy faster and leaves seniors facing an uncertain future. No amount of finger pointing or name calling can change that fact,” said NRCC spokesman Nat Sillin in a statement.
It remains to be seen just how prominently Ryan’s budget will figure into House races this fall. Romney himself has suggested that he does not plan to fully adopt it. He said instead that he would treat it as a jumping off point and meld it with ideas he has already promoted.
It is obviously “a factor,” Harvard Institute of Politics director Trey Grayson pointed out, and was even before Ryan was named as the GOP’s vice presidential nominee. But the difference between this election and 2011, Grayson said, is that now “the House GOP has so strongly embraced it legislatively, I am not sure how much more of a big deal this makes it.”
Phillip Stutts, a Republican strategist, argued that attacking the Ryan Budget worked in 2011 because at that point, “no one knew what that meant.” Now, with Ryan in the spotlight advocating for similar reforms, voters will develop a better understanding of what it means. Democrats will need to offer more specifics and less inflammatory rhetoric.
Ryan’s inherent “likeability,” which Romney referred to Saturday when introducing him, could also make it harder for Democrats to turn his budget into the same kind of bogeyman it was in 2011.
It’s easy to demonize the plan when it’s an abstract idea, Stutts said, but “it’s hard to demonize a decent person.”