While Ryan carries risks, most notably his controversial Medicare overhaul plan, the budget chairman has earned a reputation in the Republican Party as an earnest lawmaker with a technical and intellectual grasp of policy. He's a politically proven figure who is arguably more popular with conservatives than Romney is. At 42, he adds youth to the GOP ticket.
The Wisconsin congressman made waves in national politics with his proposal to drastically alter the federal Medicare program -- a suggestion that has been roundly attacked by Democrats, including President Obama.
This year, Ryan made major alterations to his plan, but it was his 2011 version that the GOP budget wiz stamped as his signature reform initiative.
Ryan's 2011 plan would nearly voucherize the program, ending Medicare's fee-for-service model and repacing payments to doctors with "premium-support payments" made directly to Medicare beneficiaries, with more money given to beneficiaries who can afford less.
In part because of its health care provisions, Ryan's budget plan was projected to reduce the deficit and limit Medicare spending significantly compared to projections of what taxpayers will have to pay for under current law, according to the Congressional Budget Office's preliminary long-term analysis of Ryan's plan as presented in 2011. It would also saddle individuals with a greater share of health care costs, according to the same CBO analysis.
Ryan has touted some version of that plan since at least 2008, but in December he teamed with Wyden to make some big changes, including an option for Medicare beneficiaries to stay on a fee-for-service model--a "public option" for seniors, to borrow a term from the 2010 health-reform debate. The two lawmakers also added more generous subsity payments, indexed to insurance costs instead of inflation, and a catastrophic-care benefit to limit out-of-pocket costs.
On the trail Saturday, Romney touted Ryan as a bipartisan compromiser.
"He's a man who has great ideas and the capacity to lead, to find people across the aisle, to work together, to make change for the American people," Romney said of Ryan in Ashland.
Romney himself has not embraced Ryan's Medicare plan. His campaign has circulated talking points on Ryan, including one on whether Romney supports his Medicare plan: "Gov. Romney applauds Paul Ryan for going in the right direction with his budget, and as president he will be putting together his own plan for cutting the deficit and putting the budget on a path to balance."
Reacting to Ryan's Medicare plan in 2011, before its more recent alterations, Obama called it "fairly radical." "Nothing is easier than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor or people who are powerless or don't have lobbyists or don't have clout," Obama told a gathering of 700 in a town-hall meeting held at Facebook's Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters in April 2011.
With the roll-out of Romney and Ryan as America's "Comeback Team," the Romney campaign rededicated its message to middle-class economics as it kicked off the bus tour, and Ryan's selection sets the stage for even more class-warfare-style debate between the two campaigns.
Republicans praised the announcement of Ryan, while Democrats focused on his Medicare overhaul plan.
"This is a strong pick," former president George W. Bush said in a statement emailed to reporters by Romney's campaign. "Governor Romney is serious about confronting the long-term challenges facing America, and Paul Ryan will help him solve the difficult issues that must be addressed for future generations."
"There is no question that former Governor Romney now owns the Republican, Ryan budget that puts millionaires ahead of Medicare and the middle class," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement released by her office. "Congressman Paul Ryan led House Republicans in voting to end the Medicare guarantee, which increases costs on seniors and weakens America's great middle class in order to give tax breaks to millionaires, Big Oil and corporations that ship jobs overseas."
Ryan's selection marks several campaign firsts: the first time a House member has appeared on a GOP presidential ticket since Barry Goldwater tapped New York congressman William Miller in 1964, the first major-party ticket in which neither candidate is Protestant (Ryan is Catholic; Romney, Mormon), and the first time in 80 years that a presidential race will feature no major-party presidential or VP candidates with military experience.
How does Ryan poll? ABC News Polling Director Gary Langer points out that that about as many Americans see Ryan favorably as unfavorably (24 percent vs. 20 percent) and that most, 56 percent, either have never heard of him (40 percent) or know of him but have no opinion (16 percent), according to recent polling from CNN.
His Medicare proposal was received coolly in 2011, with a June 2011 ABC/Washington Post finding that Americans preferred Medicare as it is rather than as a voucher program 65 percent to 34 percent. The poll also found that Americans were opposed to his budget plan 50 percent to 32 percent.
Romney criticized Obama today for the new health law's reductions in Medicare spending compared to projections, even as Ryan's 2011 proposal would also reduce Medicare spending compared to CBO predictions of future costs to taxpayers.
The Norfolk rally kicks off a bus tour for Romney through the swing state of Virginia, which Obama carried in 2008. On Saturday, Romney (and presumably Ryan) will continue on to Ashland and Manassas for a day of rallies that will last into the evening. From there, the tour will take Romney through North Carolina, Florida, and finally a stop in Ohio on Tuesday.