GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney chose Rep. Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who shot to national prominence with a plan to sharply reduce government spending, as his running mate on Saturday.

“With energy and vision, Paul Ryan has become an intellectual leader of the Republican Party,” Romney said in announcing his choice at a Virginian campaign stop held at the battleship USS Wisconsin.

"He understands the fiscal challenges facing America: our exploding deficits and crushing debt – and the fiscal catastrophe that awaits us if we don’t change course.”

Romney added, “He has never been content to simply curse the darkness; he would rather light candles.” Romney described Ryan’s difficult loss of his father at a young age and the strength his family found to persevere.

The former Massachusetts governor noted that as “a faithful Catholic, Paul believes in the worth and dignity of every human life.”

Ryan in his remarks also touched on his optimism and faith.

“America is more than just a place – it’s an idea. It’s the only country founded on an idea,” he said. “Our rights come from nature and God, not government.

We promise equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.”

He continued, “We can turn this thing around. Real solutions can be delivered. But, it will take leadership.

And the courage to tell you the truth.”

Ryan came to Israel in 2005 as part of a large Republican Congressional delegation hosted by the American Israel Education Foundation, a charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

He met with a wide array of Israeli political leaders, including then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, and visited strategic sites in Jerusalem and on the borders with Syria and Lebanon.

An official who took part in the visit said Ryan gave an impression that he is a good friend of Israel.

Republicans Abroad in Israel cochairman Kory Bardash, who had breakfast with Ryan at a Republican summit in Park City, Utah, in June, called him “very enthusiastically pro-Israel and a political “superstar.” Bardash said Ryan was impressed when he told him that he knew many immigrants to Israel from Wisconsin who would be voting in the US election.

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"He was very excited to know that I came to the summit from Israel, and he was very supportive of our organization’s efforts,” Bardash said. “He has co-sponsored pro-Israel legislation, he is very strong against pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians, and he is very critical of Hamas, which he called ‘an Islamic terrorist organization.’” Bardash called Ryan one of the most knowledgeable people in Congress on the US federal budget.

“It says a lot about Romney that instead of playing an easy, defensive campaign by choosing someone else, he rolled up his sleeves and took a hands-on approach to tackle the key issue in the race, which is the economy,” Bardash said.

Ryan, who chairs the US House Budget Committee, is seen as potentially vulnerable on the issue of entitlement spending, particularly Medicare. His plan calls for broad reform on the popular program that subsidizes the healthcare of senior citizens – a key voting bloc. Republicans have sought to present his plan as an act of political courage.

But it was an issue that Democrats immediately jumped on to criticize the choice.

“His very vocal, very welldefined record on healthcare and particularly as relates to seniors and to women is antithetical to almost what the entire Jewish community thinks, and this gets America nowhere with Jews,” said Democratic media strategist Steve Rabinowitz.

He particularly pointed to the elderly Jewish population in Florida and parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania, all crucial swing states.

Rabinowitz, who called Ryan a “classic ultra-conservative on Israel,” added that the pick was likely to energize the base but not affect moderates.

“This is not a game-changing choice,” he said.

But Jeff Berkowitz, a Republican strategist and White House Jewish liaison under George W. Bush, argued that Ryan’s fiscal policies won’t be a handicap.

Instead, he said Jewish voters are concerned that “you spend within your means, and Paul Ryan understands how to balance the budget without impacting programs that government provides for those who need a safety net.”

He stressed that for Jewish voters, “I think it’s going to make them much more comfortable voting for Romney. Ryan is a serious, intellectual thinker.”

According to Berkowitz, Ryan’s interest in reining in spending doesn’t mean he wants to cut aid to Israel.

“He would never let that impact the support we give our friend and ally Israel.”

Ryan, 42, was chosen over other top Republican names including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

Romney’s chief VP vetter, Beth Myers, told CNN that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee had conducted a thorough and deliberative process before making his choice earlier this month.

She said that Romney’s number one consideration was “that the person is qualified to be president.”

Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee in 2008, ran into trouble for not thoroughly vetting former Alaska governor Sarah Palin before choosing her as his running mate, and the Romney team seemed keen to avoid a similar situation.

Ryan joined Romney at a campaign stop in North Carolina on Saturday afternoon and should be a fixture on the campaign trail for the two weeks leading to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

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