Whenever a Vice Presidential selection is made, pundits tend to over emphasize its impact on the national electorate. More often than not, VP choices have little or no impact on the November election. Mitt Romney’s selection of Congressman Paul Ryan is unlikely to be a major exception to this rule other than providing a boost in his home district (where ironically enough I lived the first four plus years of my life) and maybe, just maybe causing problems for Romney’s efforts to carry Florida. The race in this state will be decided on the margins and while any impact from Ryan is marginal, a few thousand votes here and there could make a big difference.
The Ryan budget proposal will no doubt be the primary talking point of the next several weeks. Medicare, Social Security, and other discretionary domestic spending now become the primary issues of the campaign. Should we escape the Great Recession with Herbert Hoover like policies? In the Florida of the day, Conservative Democrats like Governor Fred Cone rejected the New Deal and plunged Florida deeper into depression with right wing economic thinking which mirrors much of Ryan’s current proposals.
Mitt Romney has failed to define himself previous to this choice of Ryan. Is he a tax dodging rich millionaire, a conservative GOP hack, a Massachusetts moderate or none of the above? Unfortunately for Florida Republicans, Romney has chosen to finally definitively define his candidacy as one that supports a slash and burn attitude towards the most important domestic programs administered by the Federal Government, programs that in many cases have been created and sustained by Republican Presidents and members of Congress. Romney alliance with the GOP circa 2012, a reactionary anti-Government party will hurt him in Florida.
Florida Republicans still in many cases are descendents of traditional moderate Midwestern and Northeastern Republicans. While this may not be the case in the areas formerly inhabited by Conservative Democrats (The Big Bend and the interior Agriculture counties) and Military Veterans ( West Florida and Duval/Clay Counties) it is the case up and down I-4, in Southwestern Florida and on the Treasure Coast.
Here is where the Ryan choice could hurt Romney:
Despite the Republican bent of the area, Social Security has worked as an issue for the Democrats before to cut margins for Republican nominees. In the 1988 US Senate race, Buddy MacKay cut into Connie Mack’s margins in these areas with well placed ads discussing Mack’s views on Social Security. MacKay ran 11 percentage points ahead of Michael Dukakis but lost by a few thousand votes.
Fast forward to 1994 when Buddy MacKay was running for re-election as Lawton Chiles’ running mate. Jeb Bush had articulated a vision of Florida that was dangerous. Along with his running mate Tom Feeney, they were attacked by the Democrats for wanting to cut Social Security. Chiles was able to cut the projected Bush margins in Lee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties and that carried him to victory statewide.
Realistically, Ryan’s Social Security ideas will probably coax a few Republican seniors to stay home or perhaps in rare cases support the Obama/Biden ticket.
Indian River and Martin County contain many Republicans whose economic views resemble the GOP of the pre tea party era. Environmental protection which would be cut drastically under the Ryan budget is a potential wedge issue with some Republicans in this area.
Ryan’s addition to the GOP ticket will have little impact in this area. The one area where Democrats could take advantage of Ryan’s views on Social Security and Medicare are in some of the Republican leaning senior areas of Pinellas County.
This area has grown four fold since the 1994 Governors race when Lawton Chiles was competitive in the area. That growth has been almost entirely on the Republican side and the margins GOP candidates have taken out of this area have grown each election cycle. The Republican organization here is incredibly strong and chances are seniors in the area will overlook Ryan’s inclusion on the ticket and stay with the GOP ticket.
All toll we are talking about less than a 50,000 vote swing that could potentially Florida towards Obama. This having been said like most VP picks, Ryan’s will prove to be mostly a non event when November roles around.