Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wave as Ryan is announced as his vice presidential running mate aboard the USS Wisconsin August 11, 2012 in Norfolk, Virginia. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
By RAJU CHEBIUM
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON -- Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan is so popular in South Carolina that his selection as running mate instantly boosts GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's standing in the state, Republicans say.
Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and a practicing Catholic, is sure to energize conservatives who may be suspicious of Romney's conservative credentials but have no doubt about where Ryan stands, Republicans say.
But the state's lone Democratic House member, Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, said the voters will eventually see Ryan as a radical conservative who was inspired by Ayn Rand, an atheist political philosopher who pushed a selfish strain of capitalism. Democrats denounce Ryan's plan to slash spending, cut taxes for the wealthy and change Medicare into a voucher program for retirees.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, doesn't see Ryan as a radical but as a hero and a friend who's modest, humble and a regular guy. Ryan displayed political courage by pushing Medicare reform and deficit reduction years ago when those issues didn't resonate with the public, said Gowdy.
"He's the ideological leader of the House," Gowdy said. "I tried and tried and tried to get him to consider running for president."
Gowdy rejected the view expressed by Democrats that Ryan, 42, the author of the GOP's budget plan, would harm the country.
"You need great, bold, big ideas," he said. "And you need someone with the courage to say, 'This is what we need to do.' It would be easier, I suppose, to say we're just one more tax increase away from prosperity. But that's balderdash, and it's not popular to talk about cuts, it's not popular to talk about reform."
Ryan's choice has boosted enthusiasm among South Carolina delegates headed to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 27-30.
LaDonna Ryggs, head of the Spartanburg County Republican Party and one of 25 delegates and 24 alternates going to the convention, said she was pleasantly surprised by Ryan's choice because he wasn't thought to be on Romney's short list.
"What it says is that Romney is serious about fixing the economy," she said. "He got the social conservatives, fiscal conservatives and the tea party all in one fell swoop because they all love (Ryan)."
David Woodard, a Clemson University political scientist who worked for Republicans, said South Carolina voters like the Romney-Ryan pairing a lot more than their choices in 2008 -- Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Although Palin generated plenty of excitement initially and lured a number of voters to McCain's side, the "maverick" Arizonan was never a popular figure in deeply conservative South Carolina, and Palin's star faded once voters decided she wasn't ready for high office, he said.
In contrast, Ryan has done very well on the campaign trail since he was named the running mate, which gives voters "reason to have some confidence in the ticket because there haven't been any missteps in the first week," said Woodard. He called Ryan an "outstanding choice."
Clyburn was a member of a 12-member "supercommittee" of congressional Democrats and Republicans who tried in vain to approve a deficit-cutting plan. One of the four plans they used as a template was Ryan's blueprint, Clyburn said.
Democrats say Ryan's plan would allow the rich to pay less in taxes, hurt the poor and middle-income Americans and provide vouchers to retirees to buy private insurance policies instead of paying for services when beneficiaries use them, as Medicare does now.
For Ryan, "what makes the world turn is for the wealthy to get wealthier," said Clyburn, assistant Democratic leader in the House. He acknowledged that Ryan is personable and easy to talk to.
"A nice guy, but his politics are way, way, way over to the right," Clyburn said. "People are going to be hard pressed to vote for this ticket."