Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson addresses a Tea Party rally, April 15, 2010, in Madison, Wis.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson addresses a Tea Party rally, April 15, 2010, in Madison, Wis. Andy Manis/AP
Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican from Wisconsin most identified with the controversial GOP proposal to revamp Medicare, has decided against running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Herb Kohl, according to news reports Tuesday morning.
It's also being reported that Tommy Thompson, 69, the Republican former Wisconsin governor and George W. Bush Administration cabinet member plans to run for the seat.
National Journal and Politico both report that Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, has told allies that he intends to remain in the House while Thompson has told his friends he plans to run for the Senate seat currently occupied by Kohl, a Democrat who said he plans to retire.
Ryan's decision to stay in the House denies the Democrats an opportunity from nationalizing the election by attacking him as the poster boy for the GOP Medicare proposal that would mark the biggest change in the program since it was created in 1965.*
Under Ryan's plan, starting in 2021, Medicare would be transformed from a program in which the federal government pays the health care bills of seniors directly to one in which it would give seniors a set amount of money with which to buy health insurance from private companies.
Critics say Ryan's proposal would essentially make Medicare unrecognizable and lead to a new, complicated health care landscape for future seniors in which their health care dollars wouldn't go as far.
Democrats have had some success turning Ryan's proposal into a political liability for Republicans in part by not stressing that the Republican proposal would affect future seniors.
Even so, there are seniors who are concerned about what the proposed GOP changes would mean for their middle-aged children when they retire. And Democrats have been quick to speak to those anxieties.
Ryan's decision also means House Republicans won't potentially lose one of their GOP House conference's biggest stars. Next to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Ryan has become one of the House GOP's main faces in the national spotlight.
Even without Ryan in the Senate race, Democrats will still be able to nationalize it. They just won't be able to use him as effectively to do it.
They'll still be able to make the argument that Wisconsin is important to Democrats nationally because of the slim majority Democrats hold in the U.S. Senate.
That's the same argument they'll no doubt make for each of the 23 seats Democrats will try to hold onto in 2012.
Meanwhile, in Thompson, Republicans would get a formidable candidate. A popular former governor, Thompson was President George W. Bush's first Health and Human Services secretary.
That would theoretically lend him great credibility on the health-care issue while his experience as a state chief executive could make voters pay more attention than they might to someone else to any allegations he makes that the new health care law restricts state flexibility.
Of course, Thompson hasn't run for office in Wisconsin for more than ten years so there will be the inevitable questions about whether he still has his campaign chops.
He made a short-lived attempt at the 2008 Republican presidential nomination but dropped out after coming in sixth in the Ames, Iowa straw poll in 2007.He had vowed to leave the race if he didn't come in at least second.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, won that straw poll and Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, came in second. Of course, Sen. John McCain eventually won the GOP presidential nomination.
* This post earlier gave an incorrect year for Medicare's creation, putting it in the Reagan era instead of LBJ's Great Society. That wasn't meant to be historical revisionism. It was a typo. I regret the error.