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Friday, August 24, 2012

With Ryan, Romney Loses Claim to Outsider Status


WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney could hardly have been more scornful of Washington politicians during a visit with conservative activists earlier this year.

“I served in government,” Mr. Romney told those gathered for the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. “But I didn't inhale. I'm still a business guy.”

The speech was no anomaly. Mr. Romney has spent years campaigning as an Washington outsider, often citing his lack of a long Congressional voting record as a way of avoiding the sometimes defensive explanations that are usually required of former lawmakers who run for president.

But by choosing Representative Paul D. Ryan to be his running mate, Mr. Romney has taken a long, deep breath of the hot air that flows through the halls of Congress.

In an instant, Mr. Romney embraced a 14-year legislative record that includes hundred of votes on hundreds of pieces of legislation, some of them controversial. Mr. Ryan's Washington record is now Mr. Romney's, effectively ending his claim to an outsider status.

In explaining why he picked Mr. Ryan, Mr. Romney has suggested that the Washington experience will be an asset, not a liability. Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to Mr. Romney, said Mr. Ryan's background in Congress provided skills that are “complementary” to Mr. Romney's.

“Not only does he know how Washington works, but he also knows how Washington doesn't work,” Mr. Madden said on NBC's “Today” show shortly after Mr. Ryan's new role was announced. “Congressman Ryan has an experience knowing what needs to be done to fix the way Washington works.”

Mr. Romney is not entirely devoid of a record in government, of course. His health care overhaul as governor of Massachusetts has been a constant source of political difficulty since he began running for president six years ago.

But in choosing Mr. Ryan to be his running mate, Mr. Romney tapped an congressman who arrived in the nation's capital as a young man and never left. That is just the kind of politician that Mr. Romney derided in the speech this year.

“Let me tell you, any politician who tries to convince you that they hated Washington so much that they just couldn't leave, well, that's the same politician who will try and sell you a bridge to nowhere,” Mr. Romney said.

The impact of Mr. Ryan's Congressional record on the presidential contest is not theoretical. In the two weeks since Mr. Ryan joined the Republican ticket, his work in the House has already generated the kind of political targets of opportunity that Mr. Romney has long hoped to avoid.

Mr. Ryan's legislative proposals to change Medicare have reframed the political conversation and given Democrats what they believe is new ammunition to raise questions about Republicans.

The congressman's votes in favor of the bank and au to bailouts have generated concern among some conservative Tea Party activists who consider those votes among the worst policy decisions in recent memory.

And now, Mr. Ryan's record of opposing abortion even in cases of rape or incest is complicating Mr. Romney's response to the rape and pregnancy comments of Representative Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for Senate from Missouri.

Mr. Romney and his Republican allies are trying to turn that record into something positive.

They are assailing President Obama on Medicare, hoping to convince seniors that the president is the one they should be worried about because of his cuts to the insurance program.

And Republicans note that recent Gallup polling suggests that the country has tilted slightly against abortion rights in the last couple of years, an indication that Mr. Ryan's position could be more of a help than a hindrance during the fall.

Still, Mr. Romney's decision to pick Mr. Ryan over som eone like Tim Pawlenty, the former governor of Minnesota, has toned down the candidate's criticism of Washington's power brokers.

At the time Mr. Romney gave his speech to the conservative activists in February, he was locked in a primary battle with a former senator and a former House speaker.

“I happen to be the only candidate in this race, Republican or Democrat, who has never worked a day in Washington,” Mr. Romney said at the time. “I don't have old scores to settle or decades of cloakroom deals that I have to defend. As conservatives, you've learned to be skeptical of this city and its politicians and I think you are right.”

Six months later, standing in front of a retired battleship to introduce his running mate, Mr. Romney lauded Mr. Ryan's “leadership in Washington.”

But he also noted that while Mr. Ryan worked in Washington, “his beliefs remain firmly rooted in Janesville, Wisc.”