2012 elections

SC Republicans like Romney’s pick of Ryan

How will Wisconsin congressman’s TARP vote, Medicare proposal play with electorate?

gnsmith@thestate.comAugust 12, 2012 

Joe Dugan, chairman of the Myrtle Beach Tea Party, went to bed Friday night resigned to voting for Mitt Romney.

Dugan felt a good deal better about his choice of Romney for president Saturday morning, after learning that U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin was Romney’s pick for vice president on the Republican ticket.

“Paul Ryan gets it fiscally,” Dugan said. “He understands the magnitude of the problems we face. We are going broke, and we’re on a path to self-destruction, and Ryan clearly understands that and wants to work to fix it.”

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Romney was all but assured of taking conservative South Carolina’s nine electoral votes in November regardless of his running mate. But his Saturday pick of Ryan, chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee, stands to bolster Romney’s support among the state’s conservatives and Tea Party members – a group wary of “mainstream Republican” Romney.

“Romney, he was not seen as conservative enough, as fiscally tight as the Tea Party wanted,” said Scott Huffmon, a Winthrop University pollster and political scientist.

“This will make them happy,” Huffmon said of Romney’s selection of Ryan.

Ryan’s selection pleased S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, who endorsed Romney early in the GOP primary process and will address the Republican National Convention later this month.

“We now officially have a Dream Team of solutions: Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan!” Haley wrote on her Facebook page. “Both of these men understand it’s not about complaining and blaming, but producing results for the people of our great country. The race is on.”

Ryan’s three controversial votes

Presidential running mates long have been chosen to help balance tickets regionally.

But, in choosing Ryan from the Midwest’s Rust Belt, former Massachusetts Gov. Romney offered up ideological balance, a nod to the Tea Party wing of the GOP that thrives in many red states, including South Carolina.

“Great choice for VP,” tweeted U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint of Greenville, a Tea Party favorite. “America needs a little R&R (Romney and Ryan)!”

For now, S.C. conservatives are unconcerned about three high-profile votes by Ryan that run counter to his fiscal hawk reputation.

Those votes:

• A 2009 vote to punitively tax the bonuses of AIG employees and others at financial firms that received federal bailout funds – a vote that Ryan since has said he regrets. He blames Democrats for rushing the bill to the floor for a vote that he now says was premature, according to media reports.

• A 2008 vote for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program – or TARP – bailout of Wall Street. In 2010, Ryan defended that vote, telling The Daily Caller that the country was on the cusp of a “deflationary spiral which would have created a Depression” and led to “a big government agenda sweeping through this country so fast that we wouldn’t have recovered from it.”

• A 2008 vote for a House bill that would have bailed out U.S. automakers with a $25 billion loan from the U.S. Energy Department. Ultimately, the Senate failed to take up the House bill, and then-President George W. Bush tapped TARP money to lend $25 billion to the automakers and their finance companies.

In the same 2010 interview with The Daily Caller, Ryan explained his support for the auto bailout. “The president’s chief of staff (Josh Bolten) made it extremely clear to me before the vote ... either the auto companies get the money that was put in the Energy Department for them already …or the president was going to give them TARP, with no limit,” Ryan said. “I said, ‘ ... We don’t want to expand it (TARP). So give them that Energy Department money that at least puts them out of TARP and is limited.’”

Ryan’s support for the auto bailout stands in stark contrast with the position of many Republicans, including Romney, who has said he would have refused TARP aid to the automakers. Instead, Romney has said he would have given financing to the auto companies to restructure once they entered bankruptcy proceedings.

TARP has been a big issue for S.C. Tea Party groups in the past.

During the 2010 Republican governor’s race, U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett of Westminster was booed and heckled at a Greenville Tea Party event because of his vote for TARP. Barrett ultimately lost the GOP runoff to then-Tea Party darling and now-Gov. Haley, in part because of his support of TARP.

But Luke Byars, Barrett’s 2010 campaign manager, said comparing the Tea Party reaction to Barrett then and Ryan now is not fair.

“A Republican primary gubernatorial race is light-years away from a presidential race,” Byars said, adding that conservatives are right to be excited by Ryan.

“When you’ve got someone who is head of the House Budget Committee, who’s come up with so many brilliant conservative solutions, people are willing to give him a chance,” Byars said, noting Ryan is from Wisconsin, a Democrat-trending state that President Barack Obama won in 2008. “People are willing to understand his situation, that he’s from Wisconsin, which is no hotbed for conservatives.”

Health care overhaul

Ryan gets his loudest applause from S.C. Republicans for his proposal to overhaul Medicare, gradually increasing the eligibility age to 67 and eliminating open-ended payments.

Instead, Americans would get payments from Medicare to help pay for private health insurance coverage or to participate in the traditional fee-for-service plan.

Last year, the Congressional Budget Office said the plan would lower the federal deficit and debt in the long run but also would result in a majority of seniors paying more for their health care than they do now.

Ryan’s Medicare plan could hurt Romney’s chances in tossup states with large blocs of senior voters, including Florida, some say.

For example, S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian said seniors voting for a Romney/Ryan ticket would be like “chickens voting for (Kentucky Fried Chicken founder) Col. Sanders.”

“You’ll see (Obama-sponsored) ads about Paul Ryan and Medicare all over Florida,” Winthrop’s Huffmon predicted. “Romney picking Ryan is a calculated risk. This will excite the base, but he carries baggage, the risk of alienating seniors.”

But S.C. Republicans, enthused about Romney’s vice-presidential choice, doubt Ryan will hurt the GOP ticket.

“(Ryan) knows we have to make tough decisions. We all know that has to be done,” said Republican National Committee member Glenn McCall of Rock Hill, who will cast a vote for Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa later this month. “His plan will be viewed as trying to save Medicare.”

Reach Smith at (803) 414-1340.

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