The selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as the GOP vice presidential nominee has put the issue of Medicare front and center in the campaigns.
Democrats started licking their chops moments after Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney announced that he had selected Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan to be his running mate.
Whether the reaction came from the national party's House and Senate campaign committees, President Barack Obama's re-election campaign or individual Democratic campaigns around the country, the message was the same: Republicans want to end Medicare, and the issue will help Democrats define the terms of the 2012 elections.
But a month to the day after the Ryan announcement, it's hard to know the exact impact of the Medicare issue, particularly in House races. A few weeks from now, after individual Congressional contests have fully engaged over the issue and pollsters from both sides of the aisle have measured the impact, we'll have a better idea of how the issue is playing.
While Democrats have pounded on the topic since Ryan's selection, Republicans have not merely ducked and covered. Instead, they went on the offense, charging the president and his party with taking money from Medicare (to pay for health care reform) and putting the program in jeopardy.
Make no mistake about it: Medicare is a crucial political issue for Democrats running for the House and the Senate. They are relying on it heavily, though not exclusively, across the country to define GOP incumbents as insensitive to seniors and siding with millionaires over older Americans.
On Aug. 11, minutes after Romney introduced Ryan as his running mate aboard the USS Wisconsin, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out an email titled "BREAKING - Congressman [John] Kline Has New Running Mate: Republican Budget That Ends Medicare."
The next day, a DCCC memo claimed "Ryan Budget Puts Republicans in Deep Jeopardy over Medicare," and two days later, the committee sent out a press release announcing "DCCC Launches New Advertising Linking 50 Republicans To Paul Ryan's Budget that Ends Medicare."
Not surprisingly, the DCCC's first independent expenditure TV ad of the cycle, aimed at Michigan Rep. Dan Benishek (R), accused him of supporting the privatization of Social Security and Medicare and of wanting to end Medicare.
Another DCCC ad charged New York Rep. Chris Gibson (R) with wanting "essentially to end Medicare." Both ads asserted that seniors would pay $6,400 a year more for health care, though only the Gibson spot specifically cited the Ryan budget.
Just recently, the DCCC unloaded on other Republicans using the issue, including incumbent Reps. Jeff Denham (Calif.) and Bobby Schilling (Ill.) and Illinois open-seat hopeful Jason Plummer.
Of course, where the DCCC has had a better opening attack against a Republican - for example, Rep. Brian Bilbray (Calif.) and Arizona candidate Jonathan Paton - the committee is using it in ads.