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Choice of Ryan as vice presidential nominee will affect Doheny, Owens race

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Shortly after midnight on an otherwise quiet Saturday — before the big news about Rep. Paul Ryan was made official, but after several media outlets had reported it — a surge of messages from Democrats started hitting a north country reporter’s inbox.

“Does (Matthew A.) Doheny support his presidential candidate’s budget?” one representative message inquired.

The senders probably already knew the answers to their questions; Mr. Doheny, a Republican of Watertown who is facing Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh on Nov. 6, said he wouldn’t have voted for the budget put forth by Mr. Ryan, R-Wisc. It doesn’t balance the budget quickly enough, Mr. Doheny argued. The rhetorical queries, though, highlighted the opportunities that Democratic operatives see in Mitt Romney’s selection of Mr. Ryan as his vice presidential pick early Saturday morning, even on a down-ticket race far away from the battlegrounds in Virginia and Colorado where Mr. Romney and President Obama will battle for control of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mr. Ryan’s budget proposals already helped sink one upstate New York Republican who was running in a conservative district. Democrats seized on Mr. Ryan’s changes to the Medicare program in their successful campaign against Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, who lost to Democratic Rep. Kathy Hochul in a 2011 special election in Western New York.

“With Paul Ryan as the Republican vice presidential nominee, Doheny is going to have to answer the question — does he stand with the Paul Ryan, or does he want to gut Medicare even more?” Mr. Owens’ campaign manager, James Hannaway, said in a news release Saturday morning.

The Doheny campaign fired back in a news release by again turning the tables on Mr. Owens, whose district includes counties with stubbornly high unemployment.

“Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are ready to take on these challenges,” Mr. Doheny said in a news release. Like me, they understand that the cost of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and debt service will exceed total federal revenues in a little more than a decade. These programs are going bankrupt and we need real leadership to address these problems.”

Mr. Doheny also alleged that President Obama’s health care law, which Mr. Owens voted to approve, cut $500 billion from Medicare. Independent fact-checking organizations have called this claim into question. The law actually reduces future Medicare spending; in addition, Mr. Ryan’s own budget, which passed the House but stalled in the Senate, sustains those spending reductions. Mr. Ryan has argued that, unlike under Mr. Obama’s plan, his spending reductions will help keep the entitlement program afloat.

Mr. Ryan proposed changing Medicare from a government-run health care program into a program that would help seniors pay for their premiums on a regulated, private market. It wouldn’t apply to current beneficiaries or people who are approaching retirement age. An amended version of his plan kept the traditional Medicare program as an option for seniors.

Mr. Doheny has declined to say whether he supports that particular proposal, saying that many competing ideas exist.

Could the choice of Mr. Ryan reverberate in the north country? Even after all the votes are tallied, it will be impossible to conclusively prove that. But the choice will move the race into a more substantive discussion of issues on a national level, many political analysts have said. That may well trickle down to the local level.

It could also help rally a conservative base upstate that is disaffected with Mr. Romney. The state Conservative Party said in a news release that it was “energized” by the choice.

Mr. Romney’s remarks at a joint campaign appearance in Virginia signaled that the race is about to tilt toward the issues. He’s wholeheartedly embracing the man, if not his budget. And Democrats who are looking down the ticket couldn’t be happier. It remains to be seen whether their optimism, or Mr. Romney’s, was misplaced.

“With energy and vision, Paul Ryan has become an intellectual leader of the Republican Party,” Mr. Romney said, according to remarks posted on his campaign website. “He understands the fiscal challenges facing America: our exploding deficits and crushing debt – and the fiscal catastrophe that awaits us if we don’t change course.”

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