Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate puts the presidential race into sharper focus for voters, especially for those independents and undecideds who many feel could decide the election.

For the next 13 weeks both campaigns will be flooding the airwaves with enough sales pitches to have our heads swimming. That's why it's so important for Romney and Ryan to deliver their message clearly and not be distracted by the dirt-ball ads that will be coming.

Romney's pick of Ryan as his vice presidential running mate very much makes this a choice election. It will be up to the voters to decide which way they want their government to proceed. The Romney-Ryan choice is for America to return to a free-market, small-government course. The Obama-Biden prescription calls for big government, closely resembling the European socialism model.

Over the next three months, there will be punches and counterpunches thrown in this fight over America's future course. There will be scare tactics, such as the one Democrats rolled out in the last election of the granny being rolled off the cliff, spooking voters with the lie that Republicans intended to end Medicare as we know it. Republicans will be pointing to that infamous economic doomsday debt clock, which has advanced by $5 trillion under Obama's leadership over the last four years.

There is a scary reality regarding America's future and that's our growth as a welfare state. According to the conservative Heritage Foundation, federal and state welfare assistance has grown almost 19 percent under Obama. There are 79 federal welfare programs that cost $1 trillion annually. As of May 2012, a whopping 46.5 million Americans were participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a 2.4 percentage increase from a year ago.

In a speech at the Heritage Foundation, Star Parker, a leading champion for welfare reform in the 1990s whose column appears regularly in the TIMES NEWS Opinion Page, called the growing size of our welfare programs "unfathomable."

She said with this rising demand, it's no wonder that state and local community budgets are going broke themselves.

Over the past four decades, median-income earnings of Americans have risen only 24 percent, while government spending has increased 288 percent. Imagine if we ran our personal finances like the federal government operates credit spending for far more than what our incomes can cover? Creditors would be banging at our door.

From the moment Romney announced that Ryan would be his vice presidential running mate, mud slingers for Team Obama were out in force, labeling the Wisconsin congressman as a radical. Voters should know that the Republicans are the only ones who have presented a budget plan in the four years Obama has been in office.

When Star Parker ended her speech she sounded the alarm that this country needs to come up with "some new plans." Paul Ryan, a federal budget expert and fiscal conservative, has shown he's one of the few in Washington strong enough to present any bold choices needed to get the nation's economy back on track.

It will all come down to how well the Romney-Ryan ticket delivers that message.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick @tnonline.com