As a young man, Paul Ryan and his brother would monitor the weather reports, ski buffs on the prowl, driving hours for the next big powder fix in Utah or Colorado.
“His favorite place was Alta. He just loves the chutes up in Alta and he did that for years,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican colleague of Ryan’s who serves with him on the House Budget Committee.
Chaffetz said Ryan’s passion for skiing continued until he blew out his knee and “got serious about life and his education.”
Now Ryan has been picked by Mitt Romney to be his running mate, a move hailed by Utah Republicans, who call Ryan a tough-minded budget hawk. Democrats, meantime, said Ryan is intelligent and photogenic but would eviscerate important programs.
Thad Hall, a political science professor at the University of Utah, said Ryan “jazzes up the GOP base,” but also comes with some liabilities. First, Hall said, he is young and doesn’t have any private sector or foreign policy experience.
Second, and more importantly, is that Ryan has a specific budget proposal that provides a clear target for the Obama campaign.
“All of the sudden we’re going to be talking about things that Romney doesn’t want to talk about. Romney doesn’t want to talk about Social Security privatization. Romney doesn’t want to talk about Medicare privatization and vouchers,” Hall said. “The Obama campaign is going to use Ryan to define Romney in ways that Romney will find very uncomfortable.”
That is especially true in a state like Florida with a large population of seniors.
Utah State Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis said Ryan’s plan would be tough on Utah’s seniors, as well.
“Ryan’s budget means Utah seniors must now prepare a plan to deal with the elimination of Medicare as we know it. It will privatize our current program with a voucher system,” he said, adding that seniors will have to pick up costs beyond the Medicare voucher.
“But, the über-rich need not worry as the Ryan budget-balancing plan gives our wealthiest citizens a massive tax cut,” he said.
But Chaffetz — who said he has joined Ryan during his “tenacious” workouts at the House gym and traveled to Afghanistan with him in December — said Ryan is the “single best person” that Romney could have picked.
“Paul is the real deal. He’s a man of principle, integrity and substance. And that’s going to cause problems for the Democrats,” said Chaffetz, who said he is eager to see Ryan debate Vice President Joe Biden.
“Paul Ryan is going to play exceptionally well in the Midwest, key states like Iowa, and Paul Ryan will play exceptionally well in the West,” he said. “He’s an avid hunter. He understands Western issues. People are really going to appreciate having Paul Ryan on the ticket.”
Other Utah Republicans echoed Chaffetz’s praise, saying he brings his credibility as a strong fiscal conservative to the ticket.
“Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan underscores Romney’s commitment to turn around the nation’s economy and get America working again,” said Gov. Gary Herbert. “[Ryan] has demonstrated leadership on reining in federal deficit spending. This Republican team is exactly what the nation needs to get our fiscal house in order and restore economic health.”
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said Ryan was a wonderful choice and shows Romney’s “bold leadership” and ensures the campaign will focus on “real substance over rhetorical style.”
“[Ryan] will focus the dialogue and debate where it should be — on returning fiscal discipline to Washington, jump-starting the economy, and creating real jobs,” Lee said. “The congressman has proven his ability to bring a strategic vision for the nation together with specific plans to actually get things done. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan will make the perfect team to lead the turn-around of our country and economy.”
Utah Republican Party Chairman Thomas Wright said that Ryan is prepared to be president if necessary and “understands the importance of pro-growth economic policies.”
“The Romney-Ryan ticket will help small businesses and will build the American middle class, offering a stark contrast to Obama’s failed economic policies that have left each American household with $520,000 worth of debt,” Wright said.
The progressive group Alliance For A Better Utah says Ryan’s budget plan would replace Medicare benefits for seniors with a coupon system and raise taxes on low-income Utahns while cutting taxes for the rich. The group also said Ryan has consistently voted to increase government spending and wage unaffordable wars.
Ryan visited Utah in late June to attend a Deer Valley retreat for Romney’s biggest donors and bundlers and to help raise money for Republican 4th District candidate Mia Love.
At the time, Ryan declined to comment on whether he would be interested in being vice president, but said that the country needs leaders — like Love — who are serious about addressing the nation’s debt crisis.
“We need people who are sincere reformers who will do what it takes to get the country back on track,” Ryan told The Tribune. “What we find from the other side is they are not offering solutions, only attacks. We’re trying to prevent a debt crisis. ... Unfortunately, the president has offered no solutions to do that, and the Senate has chosen not to pass a budget for three years, which accelerates our path toward a debt crisis.”
Love said the Ryan choice “heightens my enthusiasm” for the ticket, and she is eager to help pass the Romney-Ryan agenda in Congress.
“Congressman Ryan has led the fight in Congress to get the federal budget under control, save our entitlement programs and get government off the backs of job creators,” Love said. “These are priorities of working Utahns, and it is no great leap to predict that Utah’s support for the Romney-Ryan ticket on Nov. 6 will be overwhelming.”
During the Deer Valley retreat, Ryan spoke on a panel with South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Meg Whitman, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard, about what it would take to regenerate the economy and grow businesses.
He also spoke at the home of former Bain Capital executive and Olympic organizer Fraser Bullock, Chaffetz said. The next day he went hiking at Deer Valley with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus.
Sen. Orrin Hatch said there was a strong bench of candidates for Romney to choose from, but he is “thrilled” that he selected Ryan.
“Paul is a very smart, principled and caring thinker who, like Mitt, understands the crossroads we are at as a nation,” Hatch said. “Paul’s not afraid to put forward solutions to combat President Obama’s big-government agenda and hold the president accountable for the disconnect between his rhetoric and reality.”