Rep. Paul D. Ryan and his budget have been a major theme in congressional elections over the past few cycles.
But with the stars aligning for the Wisconsin Republican to become the next House speaker, Democrats say they'll now have a villain to run against, not just a stack of numbers.
"Democrats should be uncorking the champagne, because to put somebody that is as dedicated to unpopular policies as him at the head of the House is a real political hazard," said Ben Ray, a Democratic strategist.
Ryan's budget — which he introduced in 2011 when he served as Budget chairman — would have turned Medicare into a voucher system and increased the age of eligibility.
"I think it somewhat guarantees a re-litigation in campaigns of his harsh economic policies," said J.J. Balaban, a Democratic admaker. "And it increases the likelihood that you will see Paul Ryan now become the face of the Republican Party in Congress, and Ryan’s budget, to some extent, becomes more salient, more prominent and more newsworthy."
Already, such groups as EMILY's List — which backs Democratic women who support abortion rights — have begun to try to paint Ryan as the enemy.
"Paul Ryan may be saving the day for the Republican Party desperate for a new Speaker of the House, but Ryan’s candidacy will do nothing for the millions of women and families trying to get ahead in this country," EMILY's List Press Secretary Rachel Thomas said in a news release. "If his speakership is anything like his tenure as Chair of the Budget Committee, we expect more of the same disastrous policies from the Republican Congress that will hurt women and families."
Other Democratic operatives added that a Ryan speakership would have other implications for the party as a whole.
They say Ryan would not spend as much time raising money for the party, as he has said he values time with his young family. That's in stark contrast to Speaker John A. Boehner, who logs thousands of miles bringing in tens of millions of dollars for House Republicans and the National Republican Congressional Committee.
As it stands, the NRCC trails the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in fundraising so far this cycle. And since Boehner announced his resignation in September, the outgoing speaker has not held his usual full plate of fundraisers — a fact that is likely to be reflected in the NRCC's October fundraising numbers. Democrats say that gap would grow even larger if Ryan were at the helm.
But Republicans say they are confident Ryan would be a strong leader for Republicans.
And they note Democrats' attempts to attack Ryan's policies won't work.
“Democrats have tried for three cycles now to win elections by using Paul Ryan and it has failed miserably," NRCC Director Katie Martin said. "If Paul Ryan chooses to run for Speaker we are sure that Democrats will dial up their same failed attacks that have left them with their smallest caucus since the Great Depression.”