SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
WASHINGTON - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has selected Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, introducing the seven-term lawmaker and architect of Republican’s budget-cutting plans at a rally on the deck of a battleship in Norfolk, Virginia, Saturday.
Political observers said the choice of Congressman Ryan of Wisconsin will bring the debate over how to reduce government spending and debt to the forefront of the race for the White House.
Romney announced that he has tapped the House of Representatives Budget Committee chairman at an event at the retired battleship USS Wisconsin - coincidentally named for Ryan’s home state. “His leadership begins with character and values. ... Paul Ryan works in Washington but his roots remain in Janesville, Wisconsin,” Romney said.
Romney said Ryan , 42, “has become an intellectual leader of the Republican Party,” and stressed that their campaign will focus on ways to create jobs, protect Medicare and Social Security, and repeal the health care law enacted under Democratic President Barack Obama.
The announcement marked the end a months-long search by Romney for a running mate to join him in facing Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in the Nov. 6 election.
His choice of running mate is a bold one and comes after polls this week showed him falling slightly behind Obama in what is still a close race, in a campaign that is focused largely on the weak US economy.
“He’s never been content to simply curse the darkness,” Romney said of Ryan . “He’d rather light candles.”
Romney said that he and Ryan will travel the country offering a campaign focused on “American aspirations and American ideals.”
“Mitt Romney is a leader with the skills, the background and the character that our country needs at a crucial time in its history. Following four years of failed leadership, the hopes of our country, which have inspired the world, are growing dim; and they need someone to revive them,” Ryan said. “Governor Romney is the man for this moment, and he and I share one commitment: We will restore the dreams and greatness of this country.”
Jim Messina, campaign manager for President Obama’s reelection effort, said the pick showed that the Republican ticket shares “a commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy.”
He blasted Ryan as the “architect of the radical Republican House budget” that would slash education, Head Start, aid for college and overhaul Medicare.
“As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes,” Messina said in a statement.
While Romney’s pick does not replicate the surprise jolt of Senator John McCain’s choice of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin four years ago, Ryan is nonetheless a splashier choice than several other contenders who had been considered safer options.
Two who were high on Romney’s short list of VP contenders - former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman - were informed in recent days that they would not be on the ticket, according to two Republican sources. Both were scheduled for other events on Saturday.
Romney , 65, is launching a bus tour through four key swing states that he needs to win in November’s election: Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio. In a little over two weeks’ time, he will be formally confirmed as the Republican nominee at the party convention in Tampa, Florida.
But recent opinion polls suggest a close race between Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama, with Obama tending to have a slight lead in most surveys. Analysts say Mr Romney needs to regain momentum after a series of pro-Obama campaign advertisements attacking his record.
Correspondents say Republican leaders were concerned over the state of Romney’s campaign, and had urged him to pass over reliable - but not particularly inspiring - figures such as Ohio Senator Rob Portman and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, to pick Ryan .