The choice of Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate has somehow succeeded in making both Democrats and conservative Republicans very happy at the same time, but what does it mean for the presidential race in Maine?
Conservatives and especially Tea Party supporters are pleased because they weren’t completely comfortable with Romney’s changes in position and personal history on issues like healthcare. With Ryan, they now have an ideological stalwart on the ticket. According to Nate Silver, he’s actually the farthest from the center of any Vice Presidential nominee from either party in more than a hundred years.
For Democrats, the selection of Ryan gives them something they’ve been missing: specific plans from the Republican ticket to critique and contrast. Up to this point, Romney has been the most cautious major party presidential nominee in recent history and has avoided giving detailed policy answers on even some of the most important questions facing the country. Ryan, on the other hand, is the author of the most visible and specific piece of Republican legislation in the past two years: the Ryan budget. Romney had previously endorsed the Ryan plan, but he didn’t fully own it until Saturday. Now the plan and its many unpopular provisions are inextricably linked with his ticket.
If Ryan further energizes the Republican base, that could have some effect in Maine. There’s some turmoil among party activists over the seating of Ron Paul delegates at the national convention and other intra-party issues. Ryan’s selection might tamp that down somewhat and help the Tea Party faithful feel more comfortable voting for and volunteering for the Romney ticket. That dynamic probably won’t do too much for the party electorally, however, as polls already show the base to be highly motivated and willing to vote for Romney in order to oppose Obama.
The real effect of Ryan as the VP nominee in Maine will likely be the prominence of new issues in the debate, to the detriment of the Republican ticket.
Maine is now the oldest state in the entire country. The second Congressional district, which apportions its electoral vote separately and is the only part of the state really in play in the presidential election, has an even higher population of seniors. Ryan’s budget sought to end Medicare and replace it with a voucher system. He was also the point-person in the House for President George W. Bush’s failed attempt to privatize Social Security. These issues will not play well among older Mainers, to say the least.
The headline in the Miami Herald after Ryan’s pick was “Ryan could hurt Romney in Florida,” and Ryan’s scheduled appearance in that state today was cancelled, likely to avoid provoking exactly this discussion. Things will be even worse for the ticket in Maine.
The MPRC poll in April (the only public poll in the past few months that has broken down presidential preference by Congressional District) gives support to the idea that there may be room for Obama to gain among seniors in Northern and Western Maine. The poll showed Obama doing well among seniors, but not nearly as well as Demcoratic Congressman Mike Michaud.
Social Security and Medicare aren’t the only issues that the Ryan pick will highlight. Rather than reducing the deficit, the cuts in his budget proposal actually fund new tax breaks for the wealthy. This will add fuel to the fire already raging about disparity in Romney’s tax proposals and his own refusal to release his tax returns.
Last week, University of Maine professor (and BDN columnist and blogger) Amy Fried and University of Southern Maine professor Luisa S. Deprez released a report showing some of the other likely effects of the Ryan budget on the state, including deep cuts to important programs. Public opinion research on these portions of Ryan’s proposals shows that they too have the propensity to move voters towards Obama.
If the Obama campaign can use this opportunity to highlight the Romney-Ryan ticket’s position on Medicare, retirement security and other motivating issues, as they’re already working to do, then the race in Maine will be effectively over, and they will have won.