By Justin Sink
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) endorsed Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney on Friday, saying he believed the former Massachusetts governor was the best candidate to face off against President Obama in the fall and hold the nation’s highest office.
"I am convinced that Mitt Romney has the skills, the tenacity, the principles, the courage and the integrity to do what it takes to get America back on track. So I believe he's the right person for the job," Ryan said on Fox News.
"We vote here Tuesday in Wisconsin. Lots of my friends, family, supporters are asking me, you know, 'Who do you think we should vote for?' I have two criteria I am using to make my decision to vote in our primary Tuesday. Who is the best person to be president — who will be the best president? And who has the best chance of defeating Barack Obama? And in my mind, Mitt Romney is clearly that person," Ryan said.
Ryan said his experience helping Republicans craft a campaign budget for the upcoming presidential race also made clear to him that the GOP needed to rally around a candidate sooner rather than later in order to mount a serious challenge to the incumbent president.
"I think this primary has been productive — I think it's been constructive up to now, I think it's made the candidates better — but I think we're entering a phase where it could become counterproductive if this drags on much longer," Ryan said. "And that's why I think we should coalesce as conservatives around Mitt Romney and focus on the big task at hand, which is defeating Barack Obama in the fall.
"I am just convinced now that if we drag this thing along through the summer, the harder it is to defeat Barack Obama."
More from The Hill
• Dems fume over Justice Scalia’s healthcare comments
• Romney faces George W. Bush dilemma
• Both Dems, GOP see Ryan budget as key campaign issue
• Reid: No recess appointments from Obama this time
• Biden: GOP super-PACs will 'carpet-bomb' Obama in campaign
• American Conservative Union criticizes DeMint TV bill
• Apple supplier promises reforms after probe finds violations
• White House to pour $200 million into data-mining technology
In a statement, Romney thanked Ryan for his support.
"In the battle for fiscal responsibility, we have been facing gale-force headwinds from the Democratic Party and from the Obama White House. But with Paul Ryan’s support, I have every confidence that we can overcome those headwinds, recapture the White House for the American people and begin the hard work of setting our country on a better course," said Romney.
The Wisconsin lawmaker is the latest in a string of high-profile endorsements for Romney this week, as party leaders have increasingly coalesced around the former Massachusetts governor's campaign. The Wisconsin lawmaker joins popular freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and former president George H.W. Bush in supporting Romney this week.
Ryan authored the Republican budget proposal that passed the House by a 228-191 vote Thursday. Most Republicans, including Romney, have heralded the plan as a blueprint for the types of dramatic reforms needed to rein in out-of-control federal spending and budget deficits.
"I'm very supportive of the Ryan budget plan. It's a bold and exciting effort on his part and on the part of the Republicans, and it's very much consistent with what I put out earlier ... I applaud it. It's an excellent piece of work and very much needed," Romney said earlier this month.
But Democrats say dramatic cuts to entitlement programs and vital government services would reverse the economic recovery and leave the nation's elderly and poor in a precarious position.
"House Republicans today banded together to shower millionaires and billionaires with a massive tax cut paid for by ending Medicare as we know it and making extremely deep cuts to critical programs needed to create jobs and strengthen the middle class," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement Thursday.
Romney unequivocally embraced the Wisconsin lawmaker and his budget plan Friday, saying that Ryan would "occupy a significant place in the story of how our country rescued itself from financial disaster."
"Congressman Ryan has not only thought deeply and creatively about how to bring our extraordinary budget shortfall under control, but he has demonstrated the leadership to bring Americans together to put his bold reforms into practice," said Romney in a statement touting the endorsement.
Ryan had previously said that he would not be endorsing because of his dual role as head of the Republican National Committee's presidential trust. But the trust reached its maximum of $21.6 million earlier this week, freeing Ryan to endorse before his state's pivotal primary.
"There isn't any more money to raise. His role is over," an RNC official told The Hill.
Ryan is thought to be on the shortlist of potential vice presidential nominees, although he has indicated that he is not particularly interested in the job. Before announcing his endorsement, he told Fox News that he and Romney had not discussed the possibility at all.
"If I really wanted to be president or vice president, if that was my burning desire, I would have run for president myself," Ryan said Monday on the Laura Ingraham show. "And I don’t, so I didn’t, and don’t underestimate how important Congress is in all of this."
Still, potential candidates are traditionally coy about their desires, and Ryan admitted Sunday during an interview with CBS News that he would "consider" an offer.
"I would consider it. But it's not even something in my mind, because it's a decision someone else makes at a later time. It's a bridge I haven't even gotten close to having to cross," Ryan said. "So in the meantime I think it's important to do my job and give the country a choice and try and prevent a debt crisis from taking down our economy and destroying the livelihood of our children."
Romney is scheduled give an address on economic issues in Appleton, Wis., later Friday.
This story was updated at 9:40 a.m.