If Paul Ryan brings anything to the GOP ticket, winning over white working-class voters in the Midwest and elsewhere could make the most difference.
President Obama has never done well among these voters, losing them to Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary contest. Yet Mitt Romney has struggled with this group as well, often losing them to Rick Santorum in this year's GOP primaries.
The Obama campaign has unleashed a barrage of negative ads targeting Romney's time as head of Bain Capital, portraying him as an out-of-touch, wealthy corporate chieftain. Several analysts have argued that the spots have been aimed at the white working class, especially in battleground industrial Midwest.
The ads may have worked. Obama leads Romney 46%-39% in the latest IBD/TIPP poll, up from 43%-42% in July. Crucially, Romney's lead has shrunk to 43%-41% among white Midwest voters vs. 46%-36% in early June.
The Rasmussen tracking poll of likely voters shows Romney with a three-point edge over Obama overall, while Gallup's survey shows a dead heat.
The IBD/TIPP poll was conducted Aug. 3-10, just before the Ryan vice presidential pick.
"Paul Ryan is likely to help Romney reverse the trend," said Raghavan Mayur, president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which conducted the poll
Karlyn Bowman, senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, agreed.
"We tend to believe that vice presidents don't make much of a difference in campaigns," she said. "But at the margins Ryan has that Iowa-Wisconsin Midwestern profile.
"He's done very well in a district that went for Obama in 2008," Bowman said. "Clearly he has a lot of appeal. Add in his youth and vigor, and I think he could give a bit of a boost to the ticket in the Midwest."
Ryan has represented his Wisconsin district in Congress since 1999. He has won at least 57% of the vote every election and took 65% in 2008 when the district voted for Obama as president.
Romney will also need help among the white working class elsewhere. He has seen his lead shrink among whites making under $30,000 annually, from 11 points in June to 6 points now.
Overall, it appears that Obama has been able to cast doubt on Romney. While 56% of voters disapprove of Obama's economic policies vs. just 41% who approve, the numbers are a similar 53%-36% for Romney.
Democrats are working hard to attack Ryan's budget and Medicare reform plans as "radical." But Ryan also may be the GOP's best proponent of such ideas.
"Generally, people are going to zone out when you start talking details of the budget and Medicare," said Brandon Scholz, a partner at the Capitol Group in Wisconsin, a public affairs and grass-roots organization. "What Ryan does is bring that debate to an understandable level for any demographic, not just the white working class."