How will Paul Ryan play in Minnesota?

With MPR’s Catharine Richert and Rupa Shenoy

Democratic and Republican insiders in Minnesota have been preparing for the strong possibility that former Gov. Tim Pawlenty would be named Mitt Romney’s running mate. For weeks, DFLers were preparing a rapid response team to criticize Pawlenty’s tenure as governor. Republicans were excited at the thought of a homegrown talent boosting both fundraising and voter intensity in Minnesota.

But Romney decided against Pawlenty and instead picked Paul Ryan, a Congressman from Wisconsin. The decision means that many average Minnesotans will be studying Ryan.

“In Minnesota, the first question is, ‘Who is Paul Ryan?” said Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier. “But if he does show well as a campaigner, he could be a net plus in Minnesota, but that remains to be seen.”

Schier said conservatives will rally around Ryan, who is widely praised in GOP circles for trying to tackle the federal deficit, Schier said conservatives will be more likely to give money, knock on doors and make phone calls on Romney’s behalf. But Schier warned that Ryan’s efforts to change how the government runs Medicare and Social Security could be a turnoff for some independent voters.

“The risk is that his policy positions may be very controversial and may alienate voting blocks,” Schier said.

Republicans who know Ryan will be attracted to his background and his attempt to efforts reduce the federal deficit.

“We’ve got a Midwesterner on the ticket,” said Minnesota Republian Party Chair Pat Shortridge. “Someone who understands the Midwest and a state like Minnesota and the perspective we bring which is very much one of problem solving.”

Shortridge, who has worked with and for Ryan over the past twenty years, praised him for his knowledge on how government policies impact the economy. He thinks Ryan will bring tremendous energy to the race.

The key question is whether the Ryan selection has any impact on how Minnesotans vote. The Romney campaign has spent little time and money in Minnesota. In fact, a fundraising e-mail billed an upcoming fundraiser in Minnetonka Beach as the “one and only event that Governor Romney will attend in Minnesota.”

University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs said Ryan may help draw some votes in the Upper Midwest but the pick would not have an overall impact on the presidential race. He pointed to academic research that shows vice presidential picks rarely have a positive effect on campaigns, and that they are not typically chosen for the state or region they represent.

“They are being chosen for governing,” Jacobs said. “What is says to me is that the Romney presidency is going to be devoted to discussing a major budget restructuring.”

Expect Democrats to also work to exploit Ryan’s budget plan for a political advantage. Democrats across the state and nation focused on Ryan’s budget plan and it’s impact on entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

“Paul Ryan’s budget ends Medicare as we know it,” Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-MN, said in a statement. “It destroys millions of jobs, and explodes the deficit by giving an additional $1 trillion in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. It also fails to balance the budget for decades.”

It appears that both Republicans and Democrats are armed with the talking points and issues that they want to focus on. They’ll spend the next three and a half months working to convince Minnesotans and the nation why they think they have the better ideas.