Much has been said, written and speculated about on what the political effects on the presidential race will be of Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to be the Republican vice presidential nominee. Because of Ryan's leadership role in the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, however, it is likely that his high-profile role on the national ticket will have a substantial effect on congressional races this fall as well.
As a story in Politico this morning put it, "The reality is that Ryan is now every Republicans' running mate whether they like it or not."
Ryan, of course, is the author of the much-debated "Ryan budget" that House Republicans have twice approved -- a budget plan that most controversially proposes to offer healthcare vouchers to seniors who choose them to pay private insurance premiums rather than use Medicare insurance (the original version made the voucher provision mandatory).
Democrats have made no secret of their intent to use the Ryan budget as a campaign issue, especially against incumbent House Republicans who are on the record voting for it. Polling shows the Medicare provision is highly unpopular among voters.
The importance Democrats attach to the issue was well demonstrated in Ventura County's 26th Congressional District primary campaign, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sought to tie the Ryan budget around Supervisor Linda Parks, a former Republican who was running as an independent.
Although Parks had been publicly critical of the Medicare provisions, the DCCC mailers alleged that Parks would join other Republicans in Congress "to end Medicare as we know it." In fact, Parks had written on Facebook in response to a query about the Ryan budget that she was concerned it "would leave vulnerable senior citizens without health care."
But she stopped short of assailing it with the kind of partisan zeal that Democrats have attached to it, and called discussion of the Ryan budget "a moot point" because it was "a one-sided proposal" that was "dead in the water."
With Parks having been eliminated in the primary, Democrats will now turn their attacks on the Ryan budget and seek to use them against GOP candidate Tony Strickland. Unlike incumbent Republican House members, Strickland does not have a record of voting for the Ryan budget, but in an interview with me this spring he expressed strong support for what the Ryan plan seeks to accomplish.
"I give a lot of credit to Paul Ryan for coming up with ways to reform Medicare," Strickland told me. "There's no question that actuarially it's not sound. If we do nothing right now. Medicare and Social Security will be 100 percent of the budget."
Democrat Julia Brownley lost little time in seeking to tie Ryan and his budget plans to Strickland. Within hours of the announcement of the Ryan pick Saturday morning, the campaign issued this statement from Brownley: "The Ryan budget puts millionaires and billionaires ahead of seniors, women and the middle class by turning Medicare into a voucher system, raising the age of eligibility to 67, and making devastating cuts for women's health and education. This would be a disastrous plan for Ventura County and the nation, and it's clear that Tony Strickland would be another rubber-stamp vote in Congress for the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan agenda."
The end result may be that voters in Ventura County this fall will get a chance to hear a full debate about the future of Medicare -- both the question of whether cutting costs and/or raising revenues is a national imperative and whether the cuts proposed by Ryan and House Republicans go too far. That will mean that the 26th CD campaign will be nationalized to a level that it probably wouldn't have been had Romney chosen some other VP nominee.