How Ryan hurts Romney

While the right thinks the V.P. nominee is the star of the ticket, he's hurting his running mate in swing states

By Joan Walsh

Published September 27, 2012 8:23PM (EDT)

        (AP/Bill Haber)
(AP/Bill Haber)

It's an article of faith on the right that Mitt Romney may be destroying Paul Ryan's national career, by muzzling him and keeping his far-right stands on Medicare, Social Security, federal spending and abortion secret from voters. Iowa GOP party chairman Craig Robinson shared his colorful appraisal with the New York Times Tuesday, “I hate to say this, but if Ryan wants to run for national office again, he’ll probably have to wash the stench of Romney off of him.”

(Robinson took to the pages of the Iowa Republican Wednesday to elaborate on his remarks, but all that really matters is this one line in his piece: "For the record, I was quoted accurately.")

But it's just as likely that Ryan is bringing down Romney's presidential chances, too. In three key swing states, Ohio, Virginia and Florida, a new poll finds that voters overwhelmingly oppose Ryan's plan to voucherize Medicare, and instead favor President Obama's approach to the program and trust him to protect it. And the Catholic Wisconsin resident isn't helping with Catholics or folks from Wisconsin – Obama's taken a lead with both groups.

But it's in older swing states that Ryan may be hurting, not merely not helping, Romney. A Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that Obama has a 17-point edge over Romney with all voters on who will best handle Medicare, his biggest advantage all year. Ohio voters favor Obama's approach to Medicare by 19 points, Florida by 15 and Virginia by 13. Voters who call Medicare “extremely important” back Obama 59 percent to 36 percent, while those who say it's less important favor Romney, 54 percent to 36 percent.  (An earlier New York Times poll found similar results in Wisconsin.)

Seventy percent of all Florida voters say Medicare works well – that rises to 91 percent of the state’s seniors — and support for Medicare as it currently works is nearly as high in the other two swing states.

This comes in the wake of other polls with similar results. Last week Gallup showed that voters in 12 swing states trust Obama over Romney on Medicare 50-44.  And a Reuters/Ipsos poll the same week showed that since the Democratic National Convention, support for Romney with Americans age 60 and older has tanked, from a 20-point lead to less than 4 points.

Ryan, a Catholic, doesn't seem to be helping the ticket with Catholics: A new Pew poll shows Obama leads Romney among Catholic voters by 54 percent to 39 percent, and he's made particular gains among white Catholics. "That’s the part of the poll that I think is kind of surprising,” says John Green, a religion and politics expert at the University of Akron, who noted that Obama lost white Catholics in 2008, even as he won the overall Catholic vote.  So far Ryan doesn't seem to be helping Romney carry his home state of Wisconsin, either; the Real Clear Politics polling average has Obama up by 7.8 points in the state. according to the most recent polls.

The latest New York Times poll shows Obama widening his lead in two of those crucial swing states, Ohio and Florida. The Times quotes a Florida woman who voted for John McCain in 2008 but will back Obama this year because "she is troubled by the Republican ticket's plans for Medicare."

There's almost no path to the White House for Romney if he loses both Ohio and Florida. If that happens, he can blame Paul Ryan, at least partly. It seems Ryan's "stench" is just as repellent as Romney's for certain voters.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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