NORFOLK, Va.—Against the flag-draped backdrop of the USS Wisconsin, Mitt Romney formally introduced Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman from Wisconsin, as his vice presidential running mate on Saturday. Ryan's budget-cutting ideas have the potential to transform the presidential race. Support for his proposed mix of spending cuts and tax cuts has become a litmus test on the right--and opposing them has become a rallying cry on the left.
"A lot of people may disagree with Paul Ryan, but I don't know of anyone who doesn't respect his character and judgment," Romney said in announcing his running mate.
In less than three weeks, Romney is set to accept the Republican presidential nomination at the party's convention in Tampa.
A senior Romney aide, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Yahoo News that Romney made his decision to pick Ryan on Aug. 1—the day after he returned from an overseas trip to Europe and the Middle East. Romney called Ryan that same day and arranged a meeting—though aides did not say when that meeting took place. Both sides kept the secret for more than a week.
Romney and Ryan, a seven-term member of Congress, became close during the run-up to April's Wisconsin primary, when the two campaigned together for nearly a week. Ryan, a star of the conservative moment, sometimes overshadowed Romney on the stump—but the candidate did not seem to mind. Reporters quickly noted a budding "bromance" between the two men, a description Romney aides did not discourage.
In picking Ryan, the Romney campaign emphasized the congressman's local roots, releasing a bio that noted he was a fifth-generation Wisconsin native and the son of an attorney and a stay-at-home mom. Romney aides are hoping Ryan will help the Republican ticket win over working-class voters, who have been openly skeptical of Romney's candidacy. In accepting the role of Romney's running mate on Saturday, Ryan made a direct appeal to that voting bloc.
"I represent a part of America that includes inner cities, rural areas, suburbs and factory towns," Ryan said. "Over the years I have seen and heard from a lot of families, from those running small businesses, and from people who are in need. But what I have heard lately troubles me the most. There is something different in their voice and in their words. What I hear from them are diminished dreams, lowered expectations, uncertain futures."
Ryan acknowledged that President Barack Obama "inherited a difficult situation" when he took office in 2009. But echoing the message Romney has emphasized on the trail for months, Ryan told supporters here Obama "didn't make things better."
"Whatever the explanations, whatever the excuses, this is a record of failure," Ryan said.
The Romney-Ryan ticket is scheduled to embark on a four-day tour of four key battleground states, traveling through Virginia on Saturday before continuing onto North Carolina on Sunday, Florida on Monday and Ohio on Tuesday. While nothing has been announced, a Romney aide told Yahoo News the two men might continue onto other battleground states later this week, including Ryan's home state of Wisconsin.