President Obama's re-election campaign and its allies have begun a withering assault on the Republican ticket over the issue of Medicare and other themes. It's part of an all-out effort to frame the national debate and damage Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, particularly in swing states where seniors could make the difference.
Many Democratic strategists argue that Romney, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, made a major blunder last weekend by choosing Ryan, a 42-year-old congressman from Wisconsin known as a favorite of conservatives, as his vice presidential running mate.
David Axelrod, Obama's chief political adviser, told CBS This Morning on Monday that the excitement over Ryan will flame out. "I saw that kind of excitement four years ago when [Republican presidential nominee] John McCain appointed Sarah Palin....I think when reality catches up with the moment, it's not going to be a plus for Governor Romney." Axelrod said Ryan is the "intellectual leader of the Tea Party" and his conservative views are "dangerous."
President Obama told contributors in Chicago Sunday night that the Romney-Ryan budget plan is the wrong way to go. "They have tried this top-down tax fairy dust before," Obama said. "It did not work....This is not an election between two candidates or two parties. This is a choice between two fundamentally different visions of America."
Obama aides say he will emphasize this critique in a three-day bus tour starting Monday across the key swing state of Iowa.
A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee argued that Romney is now wedded to a Ryan budget "scheme" that the congressman developed as chairman of the House Budget Committee. The spokesman said it would "end Medicare as we know it, turning it into a voucher program that would increase seniors' health costs by $6,350 a year" and would "hike taxes on the middle class to pay for massive tax cuts for wealthy Americans like Mitt Romney."
In choosing Ryan, Romney overruled doubtful aides and made a bold decision to shake up the race, where he was falling behind Obama in recent polls.
One of his main objectives was to energize conservatives who have not been enthusiastic about his candidacy because they had concerns about how reliable he is as a conservative.
Another reason for picking Ryan was personal chemistry. Romney felt very comfortable with Ryan and became convinced that the congressman could step into the presidency immediately if need be, which Romney has always believed should be a top consideration in selecting a running mate, Romney aides told me.
But Vice President Joe Biden used the choice of Ryan as a rationale for soliciting campaign contributions for the Democrats. In an E-mail to potential donors Sunday, Biden said, "Starting now, we can expect even more wealthy right-wing ideologues lining up to support the Romney-Ryan ticket. The people on the other side who are trying to buy this election are putting nasty, deceptive TV ads on the air right this very minute. They're not going away. They're getting worse."
Overall, the Democrats argue that Ryan is an ideological extremist whose ideas, if implemented, would hurt the middle class and the elderly.
Ryan has become known in Washington for proposing a budget plan that calls for overhauling Medicare and making it into a system of government payments to the elderly in the future so they can buy insurance instead of relying on the current government-run system.
Romney, recognizing the potential problem with seniors, is pledging "no changes" in Medicare for people who currently use the program. He says he will continue to base his campaign on his own budget ideas, not just adopt Ryan's.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," on usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column in the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook and Twitter.