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Paul Ryan returns to House: Is he ready for bigger role in GOP?

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“He’s their best wonk on the budget, and [House Speaker John] Boehner will need him to help cut some sort of deal with Obama and the Democrats next year,” says John Johannes, a political scientist at Villanova University in Philadelphia.

More broadly, Ryan's relative youth, his energy, and his gravitas as a former vice presidential candidate could give him an opportunity to help “recast the party to reach out” to women and minority voters, who both overwhelmingly supported Democrats Tuesday, says Victoria Farrar-Myers, a political scientist at the University of Texas at Arlington.

He is “one of the few congressmen who has been part of a larger national campaign and proven he can hold his own on the national stage,” she says. “He is now free to begin to develop his own sense of self and can be part of that redevelopment and restructuring of how the Republican Party moves forward.”

Even before this election, Ryan had become the face of the Republican Party’s fiscal agenda by drawing up a budget proposal that cut spending, reshaped Medicare, and retained tax breaks for all Americans (including the wealthy). His role as chairman of the House Budget Committee provided the Romney ticket with authority on spending priorities, even though the Wisconsin Republican became a lightning rod for Democrats who portrayed him as intellectually dishonest.

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