Democrat politicians fanned out across the airwaves yesterday to dub Mitt Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, the most extreme Republican on a presidential ticket for generations.
The risk that Mr Romney took in appointing the young Wisconsin congressman appeared to crystallise almost immediately, as the US presidential debate shifted from the economic malaise to the long-term future of the social safety net. The race was on – 24 hours after Mr Romney unveiled his choice in the shadow of the warship USS Wisconsin – to define the new candidate.
"It is a pick that is meant to thrill the most strident voices in the Republican Party, but it's one that should trouble everybody else, the middle class, seniors, students," said David Axelrod, President Barack Obama's campaign strategist.
Unlike most running mates, historically, Mr Ryan comes with a fully fleshed-out plan for running the federal government over the next 10 years – the so-called "Paul Ryan budget" that passed the Tea Party-dominated House of Representatives last year, but did not make it past the Democrat-controlled Senate or White House.
Among other big cuts to government spending, the budget promises to turn Medicare, the popular national health service for senior citizens, into a system of vouchers for private care.
Mr Romney and Mr Ryan campaigned together yesterday in the battleground states of North Carolina and Wisconsin. "This is day two on our comeback tour to get America strong again, to rebuild the promise of America," Mr Romney said.
To the Romney campaign, Mr Ryan is a smart and affable family man with bold ideas. But the Ryan budget was immediately being featured in Democrat materials emailed to the formidable list of supporters who signed on to Mr Obama's 2008 campaign, and it topped the list of talking points handed out to party elders. All the efforts circled back to one word: "extreme".
Paul Ryan is "the mastermind behind the extreme GOP budget plan", a new Democratic campaign video says. "Governor Romney has embraced many of the positions that Congressman Ryan espouses, extreme as they sound," Mr Axelrod said on CNN's State of the Nation.
Campaigners unaffiliated with the Democrats also weighed in, underscoring the risk Mr Romney could alienate independent voters. Mr Romney's listless campaign appeared to have been faltering as President Obama shifted the terms of the debate away from the economy.
Picking Mr Ryan gives the Romney candidacy an intellectual definition that it had previously lacked. It has electrified the grass roots of the Republican party, but it also risks saddling Mr Romney with a budget plan that includes potentially unpopular elements that he has never fully endorsed.
Forget the political drama of Paul Ryan's pick as Mitt Romney's running mate; the lead-up to the announcement on Saturday had all the elements of a crime drama. To keep the decision secret from the press corp camped outside Mr Ryan's Wisconsin home (as they were outside other potential candidates' homes), he was ordered to sneak through the woods at the back of his house and into a waiting car, which whisked him to a local airport where his family were already waiting for the charter flight to Virginia.
It was the second cloak-and-dagger trip Mr Ryan had undertaken in less than a week. Earlier, he had donned dark glasses and a baseball cap and travelled all the way to Chicago airport – not to an airport in Wisconsin, for fear of bumping into reporters or other gossips – for a flight to meet Mr Romney in New England, where he was formally offered the job.