Tonight millions of Americans will tune in to a televised vice presidential debate, and it is important that we take the time to look at Wisconsin’s addition to this much anticipated event.

When Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, was nominated to be former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s running mate, many people questioned whether or not he was the optimal choice. Choosing Ryan was considered advantageous by both political parties.

Democrats believed Ryan would turn away voters who received government aid through Medicare and Social Security. Republicans hailed Romney’s choice as the turning point at which Romney would begin to take the presidential race seriously.

The trouble with Ryan began almost immediately after his addition to the ticket. Democrats were right to predict that Ryan would turn voters away from Romney – specifically elderly voters. During a recent campaign stop where he gave a speech to AARP members in New Orleans, Ryan was booed, heckled and taunted. People in the crowed yelled, “liar,” and “no vouchers,” as reported by the Economist. 

Voter reaction to Ryan’s presence on the Republican ticket has also been measured via polls in key swing states. In a Washington Post poll, 59 percent of voters who considered Medicare to be “extremely important” said that they would vote for President Barack Obama.

Ryan’s budget proposal has been widely criticized. His opponents claim that it would leave America’s senior citizens to wallow in their own filth and make improvised medicines out of various molds procured from the backs of their dusty cabinets and the bottoms of their damp closets. This situation is untrue, but it is an apt representation of the connotations that Ryan’s Path to Prosperity carries.

Although the Romney campaign website states his proposed changes to Medicare will not affect “current seniors or those nearing retirement,” the fact that Ryan’s name is on the ticket skews public perception of Romney’s position on health care.

The fact that Ryan has been seen as a dissenting voice is also hurting the Romney campaign. Recently, a satirical column by Roger Simon entitled “Paul Ryan vs. The Stench” appeared in Politico and insinuated that Ryan refers to Romney as “the Stench” and uses phrases such as, “if Stench calls, take a message.”

This satirical (and false) statement was meant to describe the relationship that Ryan is believed to have with Romney. However, it was taken as fact that Ryan walks around his campaign bus using a derogatory term to describe his running mate. The fact that this satire was taken as truth shows that the public is picking up on a lack of unity between the two candidates.

Even Gov. Scott Walker has noticed tension in the Romney-Ryan ticket. According to the Huffington Post, he said, “pushback from some of the folks in the national campaign” has been keeping Ryan from truly contributing to the campaign effort.

Problems in Ryan’s home state of Wisconsin have also indicated that he is having a negative effect on the campaign. For years Wisconsin has consistently voted Democrat for president. However, when Republicans put a vice presidential candidate from the Badger State on the ticket, some believed Wisconsin could finally vote red. 

Unfortunately, in recent weeks Wisconsin has been considered a blue state by many pollsters, and a lost cause in a Republican attempt to win a vital swing state.

This evening, Ryan is tasked with the challenge of maintaining the momentum generated by an unexpected Romney win in the first presidential debate. However, considering the recent positive press and polls surrounding Romney, it is unclear what Ryan’s strategy will be. If the Romney campaign has taught us anything, it is that he cannot hold a lead for more than week before another embarrassing and contaminating gaffe is discovered by the media.

In any case, an answer to the question, “Is Ryan committed to being vice president to Mitt Romney”? will inevitably be made clear tonight. Paul Ryan’s future as a vice presidential candidate will be clarified in this debate, whether or not he commits to the Romney campaign. If he chooses incorrectly, he could lose the influence that he has gained in Congress in recent years.

If Romney wins and Ryan has distanced himself from the campaign, then he will be left isolated and untrusted for going against the wishes of the new president. In contrast, if he commits to Mitt and Romney loses, then Ryan will be forever unable to wash “the Stench” from his policies.

Jared Mehre (mehre@wisc.edu) is a sophomore majoring in political science and sociology with a certificate in criminal justice.