In the 1996 presidential campaign, the Clinton-Gore reelection team unilaterally made House Speaker Newt Gingrich Bob Dole’s de facto running mate, shunting aside Dole’s real vice presidential choice, Jack Kemp, a moderate centrist.
In a series of campaign ads like the one above, the reelect team were successful in tying the speaker — one of the least popular and most divisive figures in politics then (as now) who had shut down the federal government on two separate occasions a few months earlier — to Dole in part because Dole was the majority leader in the Senate, Gingrich’s counterpart in the leadership of the upper body. Dole’s association with Gingrich became so onerous that he resigned from the Senate in June 1996 to focus full time on the campaign. Even so, Clinton walloped him, winning by 8.5 percentage points in November.
Over the weekend, Mitt Romney gave the Obama-Biden reelection team a similar gift when he named Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate. The president’s campaign had already signaled its intention to run against what the president routinely referred to as the “Romney-Ryan budget,” so in making Ryan his running mate, Romney made the Obama team’s strategy even easier and potentially even more effective.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Paul Ryan is a key member of the Republican congressional leadership team. As such, he is more responsible than most for pushing the Republican obstructionist agenda in Washington — an agenda that has given Congress an average 17 percent approval rating, according to right-leaning Real Clear Politics and that may explain why the CNN poll earlier this month found that voters preferred Democrats to control Congress over Republicans in the next term by 6 points, 45 to 39 percent.