LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Now we're going back to the big, high-profile contest this morning in politics: this morning's announcement that Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan is Mitt Romney's pick to be the next vice president. Romney would not speculate about his chances in an interview with MSNBC earlier this week, but he said that he was looking for a running mate with vision.
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MITT ROMNEY: I don't think I have anything for you on the VP running mate, other than I certainly expect to have a person that has strength of character, vision for the country, that adds something to the political discourse about the direction of the country. I mean, I happen to believe this is a defining election for America, and that we're going to be voting for what kind of America we're going to have.
WERTHEIMER: Romney and Ryan are set to appear together later today at an event in Virginia. We're joined in the studio by NPR's Don Gonyea and Ron Elving. Don, you've covered quite a few presidential campaigns. Where does this stack up against other vice presidential picks?
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Well, it's certainly not the bombshell/blockbuster that the Sarah Palin pick was four years ago. That caught everybody completely by surprise. And we did see, at least in the early stages, that announcement give John McCain just a real jumpstart to his campaign. Then it got complicated as things went on with that pick.
Paul Ryan was certainly, you know, on the short list that we've been talking about for months and months and months. It's still a surprise, because I think relatively few people had him pegged as the pick because of the Ryan plan being seen as perhaps too specific, too controversial.
But it does feel like it's a pretty good fit for Mitt Romney, but it also, I think, defines this campaign going forward as one that's going to be about some very specific things.
WERTHEIMER: And it seems to me that Mr. Romney - he said it himself. He thinks this is a defining election. And I guess the addition of Ryan to the ticket, Ron Elving, kind of makes it that.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: It does. It ads a great deal of drama to the choice between Obama and Romney that some people on the right felt was lacking. And when you talk about people not expecting this or putting him on their shortest of short lists, you certainly would want to exempt all of the media that are owned by Rupert Murdoch, because Fox News and The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard have been talking about Paul Ryan nonstop all week, almost insisting that he become the vice presidential choice for Mitt Romney, saying that if Mitt Romney wants to mean something, if he wants to pose a contrast with Obama, he must have Paul Ryan and no one else.
WERTHEIMER: Now, I wonder. Paul Ryan is a very bright guy. He's a very well spoken guy and he has lots of very serious ideas. Is that what he brings? Is it the sort of bright and brainy and a person who's got strong opinions? Is that the advantage of Mr. Ryan?
ELVING: Yes. I think he brings all of those things. He brings the energy, the intellectuality, the tough, argumentative, aggressiveness, the kind of we-want-to-go-out-there-and-really-go-at-it enthusiasm and energy that a lot of conservatives felt was lacking in Mitt Romney as a personality and also as a political character.
I mean, let's remember when Mitt Romney was the governor of Massachusetts not so long ago, he was moderate to - by many people's lights - liberal on issues like gay marriage, on issues like abortion, on issues of budgeting.
So he was, after all, the person who put together the plan that became the model for Obamacare. In those days, we called it Romneycare. So all of those things are detriments to the hardcore base of the Republican Party, and Paul Ryan is an antidote to all of that. So in addition to his personal appeal - which is substantial and he has a tremendous personal vibrancy about him - in addition to that, he satisfies all of those detriments that Mitt Romney was still suffering from after the primaries for this ticket.
WERTHEIMER: So, Don, who do you think Paul Ryan alienates?
GONYEA: Well, he certainly alienates Democrats. Now, the Democrats were not going to vote for Mitt Romney, anyway, especially the real Democrats. But this will fire them up. This will motivate them. And this kind of energizes their storyline, as well. So there is that.
It is still an open question how he plays in those battleground states outside of his home state, Milwaukee. I mean, I think that the sense here - this morning, at least - is that he helps in Wisconsin - not Milwaukee, in Wisconsin. But it's not clear how this talk of, you know, Medicaid and Medicare and Social Security and his tax plan - which does kind of fit into the Obama narrative of the Romney campaign on taxes - will play in Ohio and in Florida and in Colorado.
WERTHEIMER: Well, let's look at a couple of groups. Let's look at white working-class men, the sort of Reagan Democrats that Mr. Obama has had a great deal of difficulty with, that have sort of drifted into the Republican Party. Would they drift back, or do you think they'll like this just fine?
GONYEA: They have been a particular strength of Paul Ryan's in his own district, and it has been a particular strength of Mitt Romney's, as well. So it may energize them more, but I don't see it being risky with them at all.
WERTHEIMER: What about older women? Mr. Obama has had a great deal of strength with women, but not necessarily with married women.
GONYEA: Mm-hmm. Though we have seen a little movement in the polls there recently, it seems, kind of with some strengthening of Mr. Obama's position. Again, issues of, you know, Medicare and Social Security may be very important.
WERTHEIMER: Those are family issues. Yeah.
WERTHEIMER: Well, let me just say two words to you that I haven't said to you yet: Tea Party.
GONYEA: The Tea Party is going to like the Paul Ryan pick. They would probably have had one or two other candidates who were more closely associated with their group. I mean, Ryan's been in Congress. This is his seventh term. So he was around and he was who he was long before anyone had heard of the Tea Party or it had been invented as a concept.
But this is a pick the Tea Party will applaud because on so many issues, particularly with respect to budgeting, his approach to trying to reduce the deficit is going to comport with theirs. I think if there's one question - one question - about how big a risk this pick is, it is: Can you convince people who are already 55, 60, 65 and older that none of these changes to the budget is going to affect them and their benefits?
ELVING: In the past, when people have tried to tell them that - privatizing in the Bush era, privatizing Social Security...
WERTHEIMER: Raising the age limit.
ELVING: ...and the Obama people saying, look, none of these cuts that we're talking about doing are going to affect current recipients - it's been a tough sell. Older people have thought, hmm, I don't know. You're touching programs I really depend on. Even if you tell me it's not going to affect me, I wonder where you go next.
If you're going touch the untouchable, why should I think you won't touch it now, or sooner than you say you will? That's the biggest question about Paul Ryan.
WERTHEIMER: And, of course, if Mr. Romney is elected, should the Republicans sweep the House and Senate, then we would be talking about this Ryan budget as accomplished fact.
ELVING: And it would be the American budget.
GONYEA: And early indications are, at least, that we will have a greater Tea Party strength in the United States Senate, which would make a difference, as well. Just really quickly on the Tea Party, I agree with what Ron said, but there are a couple of points.
Paul Ryan did support the TARP program, and he supported the auto bailout. So those are a couple of things both important to his district, obviously.
WERTHEIMER: Thanks to both of you very much. NPR's Don Gonyea and Ron Elving.
GONYEA: Thank you.
ELVING: Thank you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.