Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney (left) named Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan (right) as his would-be vice president on Saturday as he launches a bus tour as part of his bid to unseat President Barack Obama in November.
Buoyed by a boisterous crowd, the pair pledged to restore the country to greatness by reversing the Obama administration's failures, with Ryan saying their goal was nothing less than to "save the American dream."
"We can turn this thing around," the seven-term congressman from Wisconsin told cheering supporters in Norfolk, Virginia in the shadow of a hulking grey battleship appropriately named the USS Wisconsin.
"High unemployment, declining incomes and crushing debt is not a new normal. It's the result of misguided policies," 42-year-old Ryan insisted, in his first public comments since becoming Romney's running mate.
"That is why we need new leadership to become part of the solution, new leadership to restore prosperity, economic growth and jobs," he added. "It is our duty to save the American dream for our children and theirs."
In recent weeks Romney has slumped behind Obama in opinion polls, with the incumbent taking a clear lead nationally and in most of the dozen swing states that will decide the November 6 election.
A Fox News national poll on Thursday put Obama at 49 percent to Romney's 40 while a CNN poll had Obama at 52 percent, seven points up on the Republican, a multimillionaire investor and former Massachusetts governor.
But by picking Ryan, a darling of small government conservatives, and embarking on a four-day bus tour across four battleground states, Romney hopes to regain the initiative in the run-up to November's vote.
Laughter and awkwardness ensued as Ryan strode down the USS Wisconsin. Romney retook the podium, put his arm around Ryan, and said: "Every now and then I make a mistake... but I did not make a mistake with this guy."
Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee, and earlier this year unveiled a budget plan -- widely backed by Republicans -- that slashes federal spending and lowers taxes for all Americans and corporations.
Most controversial, it overhauls entitlement programs Medicare and Medicaid, and Democrats immediately went on the attack, alleging that the cuts would hurt the elderly who rely on such aid to pay for healthcare.
Obama's campaign offered a swift retort to the new Republican ticket, warning that Ryan stands for "flawed" economic policies that would repeat "catastrophic" mistakes of previous Republican administrations.
"Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said.
Ryan's status as a Washington insider may turn off some voters, with Congress saddled by its lowest approval ratings on record, but Ryan said it complements Romney's executive and private sector success.
"I have worked closely with Republicans as well as Democrats to advance an agenda of economic growth, fiscal discipline, and job creation," Ryan said.
"Real solutions can be delivered. But it will take leadership, and the courage to tell you the truth."
Citing the anemic economic recovery, unemployment above eight percent, soaring deficits and federal spending, and plunging wages and home prices, Ryan said it was time to elect Republicans to end the "record of failure."
"Governor Romney is the man for this moment, and he and I share one commitment: we will restore the dreams and greatness of this country," he said.
Conservative pundits, many of who had been pressing for Ryan to be chosen, were broadly happy with the re-launch.
Many expected Romney to go with a safer pick, such moderate conservative Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, or former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, whose blue-collar roots would have helped the ticket connect with everyday voters.
Romney's one-time rival for the Republican nomination, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, expressed support for the pick on Saturday.
"Mitt Romney made a very courageous decision for a big solutions, big choice election with Paul Ryan," Gingrich posted on Twitter.
And Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who experts considered to be in the running to be on the ticket, offered praise for his "good friend" Ryan.
"He has the courage of his convictions, which is what our nation needs," Jindal said, in a statement distributed by Romney's campaign.