Like John McCain four years ago, Mitt Romney hopes his running mate will shake up the electoral landscape, dramatically shift the terms of the national debate, and introduce a "game-changer" into the race, campaign advisers told BuzzFeed.
But aides were quick Saturday to reject the early analysis that choosing Ryan represents a "Sarah Palin pick" for Romney — a high-risk move intended to turn around a flailing campaign by elevating a polarizing politician.
"I don't think that's a fair comparison," said one adviser. "Paul Ryan has been a leader on these issues for years. He's not an unknown quantity. He may bring the same excitement to conservatives... But this wasn't a base move."
Another senior adviser, commenting on the comparison in an e-mail to BuzzFeed, was more sarcastic: “The number one policy wonk in the country… Sarah Palin…?”
Indeed, few would accuse Ryan — who has been considered the intellectual leader of Congressional conservatives for years — of being a lightweight. And while he isn't a household name, his 14-year presence in Washington D.C. has established him as a familiar figure to the political class, at least.
One adviser said adding him to the ticket will change the electoral math, and likely lead the campaign to invest more seriously in states that seemed borderline blue. He said Ryan's Irish Catholic background and blue-collar appeal will put Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin in play, and improve their standing in Ohio.
"I do think this is a game-changer," the adviser said, adding, "I think there's going to be a whole swath of the Midwest that looks at this bright, young, very energetic guy, and is won over."
But he said one central difference between Ryan and Palin is that the former will be able to hold his own on policy details.
"Gosh, can you imagine that Vice Presidential debate with Joe Biden spouting Mediscare type slogans, and Paul Ryan walking through the numbers?" the adviser said. "The contrast there is going to be astounding."
Senior Romney strategist Eric Fehrnstrom similarly emphasized Ryan's competence, along with his ability to balance the nominee's business record with Washington experience.
"It's a fantastic choice because in Paul Ryan we have a strong governing partner," he told BuzzFeed. "Mitt Romney brings jobs and economic experience, and Paul Ryan brings budget know-how and deficit-cutting credibility. Together, they will put America back on a path to a more prosperous future."
Stuart Stevens, another top Romney aide, said the Ryan pick will reframe the national conversation about this race.
"We want it to be a choice of a certain sort: 8.3 percent versus 4.7 unemployment, work for welfare or just welfare, staggering deficits versus responsible choices, truth versus lies, big versus small," Stevens said. "And it's future versus past. Obama wants to go back to pre-Clinton. Biden is from another century. Romney and Ryan are the future."