By Eric Boehm | PA Independent
HARRISBURG – Political observers say the choice of U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as Mitt Romney’s running mate will have little effect on the outcome of the presidential election in Pennsylvania, even as both political parties are using the selection to galvanize voters who are growing weary of both candidates.
With Pennsylvania still hanging just outside a core group of “toss-up” states likely to determine the outcome of the election in November, Romney’s selection of Ryan, a seven-term congressman from southeastern Wisconsin, brings budgetary issues and the future of Medicare into sharper focus as a key campaign issue, several political observers told PA Independent on Monday.
“In some ways, it could be a move that pushes Pennsylvania further out of the picture for 2012,” said Chris Borick, a pollster and professor of political science at Muhlenberg College.
With Romney already trailing in Pennsylvania – a state that has been reliably Democratic in presidential elections since 1992 – by between four and six points on average, selecting a candidate like Ryan who has the potential to alienate older Pennsylvania voters could be a sign that the campaign is discounting its chance to win the 20 electoral votes up for grabs in the state.
“Pleasing Pennsylvania voters or making the state more competitive was probably low on the pecking order,” Borick said.
Of course, vice presidential picks have only a marginal affect on the outcome of most presidential elections, and Ryan’s willingness to engage educated, suburban voters on important fiscal issues may actually improve Romney’s prospects in the Keystone State, if only slightly, he added.
But with Ryan – and his well-known plan to reform Medicare, the government healthcare system for the elderly – on the ticket, Pennsylvania does have one demographic factor that could make it more of a player in the final stages of the general election.
According to the 2010 census, more than 15 percent of Pennsylvania residents are over age 65. Only Florida, West Virginia and Maine have higher percentages, and of those only Florida is of higher political value.
Political consultants on both sides of the aisle said Ryan’s inclusion on the ticket would put more of a focus on older voters in Pennsylvania.
Democrats wasted no time in pouncing.
Jim Burn, chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said in a statement that Romney’s selection of a running mate “proves once again that he has the wrong agenda for middle class Pennsylvanians.”
Burn also used a phrase that all Pennsylvania voters will soon have emblazoned into their minds by campaign ads – that the Romney/Ryan budget plan will “end Medicare as we know it.”
Terry Madonna, a pollster and professor of political science at Franklin and Marshall College, said Romney’s campaign must be prepared to counter an onslaught of ads aimed at senior citizens in Pennsylvania.
“Both of those are wrong,” he added.
In reality, the Ryan budget plan would leave Medicare intact for anyone over 55 and would allow those under the threshold to choose whether to remain in the system or select an equivalent private sector insurance plan.
Republicans are already pushing back by arguing that President Obama cut $700 billion from Medicare and has increased the Washington bureaucracy that oversees the program.
Even so, expect plenty of campaign rhetoric about the impending doom of the Great Society from Obama and his surrogates in Pennsylvania.
And if the claim that the Ryan plan would “end Medicare as we know it” sounds familiar, that’s because it was selected by Polifact, a political fact-checking service that some have accused of having a liberal bias, as 2011’s “Lie of the Year” after Democrats used it to denounce the Republican budget proposal that passed the U.S. House last year.
Pennsylvania Republicans are also working themselves into a lather over Saturday’s decision to put Ryan on the ticket.
Valerie Caras, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said the selection of Ryan will put economic issues at the center of Romney’s campaign and will force Obama to address the economy.
Second, it means a boost in enthusiasm, she said.
“Enthusiasm over Paul Ryan among our base translates into more volunteers at our phone banks, going door-to-door, and ultimately more Romney voters heading to the polls on Election Day,” Caras wrote in an email on Monday.
Madonna said both sides hope to use Ryan as a way to galvanize voters in a year when both parties are dealing with an enthusiasm gap.
So far, polling shows there will not be a wave that gives on party a distinct edge like in the last three national elections, according to Madonna.
If Romney chooses to push hard in Pennsylvania, Ryan’s fiscal conservatism could mirror the successful 2010 campaign of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, who won statewide with a message that consisted almost entirely of fiscal conservatism and budget hawkishness.
“Ultimately, Pennsylvania is a state that’s more pragmatic in general,” Borick said. “If you’re going to win the state, it’s better to stand on the fiscal message.”
But if the vice president has a minimal affect on the presidential race itself, Ryan’s inclusion is even less likely to shake up any of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional races.
Thanks to the recently-completed redistricting process that effectively gerrymandered Pennsylvania into 11 safe Republican districts and five safe Democratic districts, there are only two races that figure to be very competitive – the 8th district in the Philadelphia suburbs and the 12th district that stretches east of Pittsburgh.
Contact Eric Boehm at Eric@PAIndependent.com or Melissa Daniels at Melissa@PAIndependent.com