WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, the author of a controversial plan to overhaul government health programs, would make a good presidential candidate, the No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives said on Monday.
The comments by Majority Leader Eric Cantor suggested that Republicans who have not been mentioned as candidates might enter the race to unseat President Barack Obama in the 2012 elections.
Several other Republicans have also called on Ryan, chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, to enter the race. Party members worry that the candidates who have declared so far will struggle to defeat Obama.
"Sure, I think Paul's about real leadership," Cantor told reporters when asked if Ryan should run.
But Ryan said on Sunday that he was not running for president and did not plan to do so.
Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty launched his Republican presidential bid in Iowa on Monday, but Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels ruled himself out over the weekend.
Cantor said other White House hopefuls should back Ryan's budget plan, which passed the House last month, to scale back the Medicare program for future retirees and the Medicaid program for the poor to ensure the country's debt does not grow out of control.
Polls show that the plan is not popular with the public, and Democrats hope they can translate that into electoral gains next year.
Cantor said Republicans should embrace that formula to show they are not afraid to take on difficult issues.
He said the presidential race was just beginning.
"I think that our field is a field that still has a lot of time. I think the candidates who are in the race are strong candidates. It is early still," he said.
Reporting by Andy Sullivan; editing by Philip Barbara