By Greg Sargent
Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan as his vice presidential nominee has drawn national attention to Ryan's Medicare plan. One measure of this: Rob Zerban, the Democrat challenging Ryan for his House seat in Wisconsin, has been able to raise some $770,000 for his race -- outraising Ryan himself.
According to the Zerban campaign, 84 percent of his contributions come from outside Wisconsin, underscoring the intensity of feeling among Democrats nationally towards Ryan and his plan.
In this context, the new ad that Zerban is set to run against Ryan is worth watching. With Ryan set to debate Joe Biden next week, Ryan is under fire in his own district:
The ad strikes a moral tone against the Ryan plan, calling it "dangerous," "cruel," and "deeply wrong." And it flatly claims Ryan's plan "ends Medicare," an assertion that has drawn scowls from fact checkers, even though Ryan's plan would end Medicare's core mission over time. (Paul Krugman has said the plan would "kill the program.") Zerban claims: "I will never cut Medicare benefits. Ever."
The strong stance against any Medicare benefits cuts will hearten those who suspect Congressional Democrats will ultimately give ground on that front when the talks over entitlement reform begin in earnest next year. That stance is one reason why the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is backing Zerban, having raised over $110,000 for him in the form of around 10,000 donations.
It's unclear whether national Dems will view this race as genuinely in play. The Zerban campaign recently released a polling memo claiming he is within eight points after Zerban is described to voters. But there is no sign yet that national Dems intend to invest in the race. Wisconsin papers are treating Zerban as a credible challenger, however: They are calling on Ryan to debate him.
Liberal groups and Dems nationally will continue to watch the race closely, partly because of Zerban's stance against Medicare benefits cuts and because Ryan is the leading architect of the GOP's entire fiscal agenda. It will be interesting to see how Ryan reacts if pressure increases on him to take time out of his busy Veep campaign schedule for a debate back at home. Obviously, if Romney loses the presidential race, ousting Ryan from his House seat -- as out of reach as it might seem -- would be a huge prize.