Romney pick of Ryan offers voters clear choiceThe Associated Press
HIGH POINT, North Carolina -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sharpened the choice for American voters by picking Rep. Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, linking himself to a politician with an austere vision of government spending on social safety net programs for the elderly and poor.
Romney's choice suggested that he had accepted the arguments of powerful conservative forces in the Republican Party who argued that he could not capture the White House in the November election by simply portraying himself as a successful businessman with sweeping but vague outlines for economic recovery.
But mindful of just how controversial Ryan's views are among centrists, Romney put some distance between his agenda and Ryan's more controversial budget proposals on Sunday as the new team soaked up excitement from partisans in North Carolina and Ryan's home state of Wisconsin.
Until he chose Ryan, the former Massachusetts governor had been campaigning on a message that President Barack Obama, who had never been part of the profit-driven, rough-and-tumble business world, had failed in setting the country on a course of robust recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
By aligning with Ryan, a seven-term congressman from Wisconsin who chairs the House Budget Committee, Romney has created a Republican ticket with economic overtones that will appeal deeply to the party's conservative base which favors small government and low taxes.
But choosing Ryan also could hand the Democrats a campaign hammer, a tool that will allow them to pound the Republican ticket for planning to gut Medicare, the government health insurance program for Americans 65 and older, and Medicaid, the program that provides health care to America's growing number of poor people.
Obama, attending campaign fundraisers Sunday in Chicago, tagged Ryan as the "ideological leader" of the Republican Party.
"He is a decent man, he is a family man, he is an articulate spokesman for Gov. Romney's vision but it is a vision that I fundamentally disagree with," Obama said in his first public comments about Ryan's selection.
Earlier, Obama's senior campaign adviser David Axelrod deemed Ryan's budget "the Ryan-Romney plan" and cast the new addition to the Republican ticket as a choice "meant to thrill the most strident voices in the Republican Party, but it's one that should trouble everybody else _ the middle class, seniors, students."
Romney walked a careful line as he campaigned with Ryan by his side in North Carolina. Romney singled out Ryan's work "to make sure we can save Medicare." But the presidential candidate never said whether he embraced that plan himself. During the Republican primary, Romney had called Ryan's budget a "bold and exciting effort" that was "very much needed."
Ryan proposed to reshape Medicare by setting up a voucher-like system to let future retirees shop for private health coverage or choose the traditional program _ a plan that independent budget analysts say would probably mean smaller increases in benefits than the current law would provide. Under the current program, the government directly pays doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.
Romney and Ryan, in their first joint television interview Sunday, were clearly mindful that some of Ryan's proposals don't sit well with key constituencies, among them seniors in critical states like Florida and Ohio. Each man sought to reassure older voters they wouldn't take away their benefits, with Ryan saying his mother was "a Medicare senior in Florida" and Romney vowing there would be "no changes" for seniors currently counting on the popular federal program.
"In America, the nature of this country has been giving people more freedom, more choices," Romney said in an interview with CBS' television news magazine "60 Minutes." "That's how we make Medicare work down the road."
Romney aides praised Ryan's budget work, but sought to draw a distinction between his ideas and Romney's.
"Gov. Romney is at the top of the ticket. And Governor Romney's vision for the country is something that Congressman Ryan supports," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said Sunday during a briefing for reporters.
The running mate pick shifted the campaign debate, at least temporarily, to the pressing economic challenges facing the U.S. _ a debate both Romney and Obama have said they wanted to have even as the dialogue had spiraled into nasty, personal attacks.
Three months from Election Day, polls find Obama with a narrow lead over Romney, though the race remains tight in key battleground states. And while Ryan's selection raised the role of government spending and Medicare in the election, the fundamentals of the campaign remained unchanged: a race defined by a weak economy and high unemployment, measured most recently at 8.3 percent in July.
The 65-year-old Romney, seeking to pull his campaign out of a summer slump, appeared to relish in campaigning alongside the youthful and energetic Ryan. He introduced his 42-year-old running mate on Saturday in front of the battleship USS Wisconsin, berthed at the naval museum in Norfolk, Virginia.
"This is Day Two on our comeback tour to get America strong again, to rebuild the promise of America," a gleeful Romney told a campaign rally in Moorseville, North Carolina, on Sunday.
The duo blitzed through North Carolina _ a competitive battleground state in the November election _ as part of a multistate bus tour. The pair was ending the day in Waukesha, Wisconsin, with a homecoming-themed event for Ryan. Romney then planned to head to Florida and Ohio as the week begins, while Ryan was scheduled to travel to Iowa on Monday as the ticket looked to cover as much ground as possible.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were fanning out Monday for a series of campaign events. The president was starting a three-day bus tour of Iowa, signifying the importance of the toss-up Midwestern state, while Biden headed to North Carolina and Virginia.
The Republican-led House of Representatives approved Ryan's budget plan over vigorous Democratic opposition in 2011 and again in 2012, but the Democratic-controlled Senate failed to pass the measure.
Democrats believe seniors, those nearing retirement and middle-income voters will view Ryan's long-term budget plan remaking Medicare and cutting trillions in federal spending as a threat to their financial security.
Ryan and other supporters say the Medicare overhaul is needed to prevent the program from financial calamity. Critics argue it would impose ever-increasing costs on seniors.
Other elements of the budget plan would cut projected spending for Medicaid, as well as for food stamps, student loans and other social programs that Obama and Democrats have pledged to defend.
In all, it projects spending cuts of $5.3 trillion over a decade and would cut future projected deficits substantially.
Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt in High Point, North Carolina; Ken Thomas in Chicago, and Steven R. Hurst and Julie Pace in Washington contributed to this report.