What the Paul Ryan pick means

(CBS News) To say Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., came out of nowhere might ring true for most who've don't know much about Ryan - and that's a lot of folks: 54 percent, according to a recent CNN poll - but to political observers he's been considered short-list material for Romney for a while. That said, it doesn't mean Romney played it safe with his choice, nor does it make the Ryan pick any less bold or risky.

The 42-year-old Ryan, from Janesville, Wis., has represented his swing district since his 1998 election at the age of 28. And he became a national political figure in recent years, especially after, as House Budget Chairman last year, he unveiled a controversial and debate-changing budget proposal - making him a darling not only to Romney but to conservatives.

His budget, which passed the Republican-led House twice in two different iterations and died in the Democratic Senate, called for cutting the deficit by $4.4 trillion over 10 years by repealing the president's health care bill, reforming Medicare and Medicaid and imposing hard spending caps.

Immediately after its unveiling, Romney became a vocal backer of it while Democrats accused Ryan of trying to fix the country's fiscal problems on the backs of the elderly and the poor. Be prepared to hear a lot of that coming from President Obama and congressional Democrats in their efforts to pick up more seats in the House and Senate.

Romney's selection of Ryan signals that he's going to try to make this election more than just about a referendum on Mr. Obama and his stewardship of the economy but about offering new, albeit somewhat controversial, solutions. The Wall Street Journal editorial board, in pushing for Romney to pick Ryan on Friday, laid out this thinking:

"The case for Mr. Ryan is that he best exemplifies the nature and stakes of this election," the Journal's editorial board wrote. "More than any other politician, the House Budget Chairman has defined those stakes well as a generational choice about the role of government and whether America will once again become a growth economy or sink into interest-group-dominated decline."

  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.