Romney running mate confronts Obama

2012-08-13 19:12
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan during a campaign event at the Waukesha county expo centre, in Wisconsin. (Mary Altaffer, AP)

Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan during a campaign event at the Waukesha county expo centre, in Wisconsin. (Mary Altaffer, AP)

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Council Bluffs - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney sent his new running mate to the Midwestern state of Iowa on Monday, testing his campaign mettle against Barack Obama as the president began a bus tour of the battleground state that launched his successful run for the White House four years ago.

Notably, Romney was not taking Representative Paul Ryan with him to Florida, where the vice presidential candidate's plans to overhaul government health care for the elderly was not likely to find a welcoming audience. The key swing state is heavily populated by older Americans who rely on the Medicare programme.

Three months from Election Day, polls find Obama with a narrow lead over Romney in a race defined by a weak economy and high unemployment. But Romney enjoyed the biggest crowds of his campaign so far over the weekend after announcing Ryan as his running mate on Saturday.

Ryan, a favourite of the small-government, low-tax tea party wing of the Republican Party, brings to the Romney campaign an austere message on government spending, one designed over the coming decades to diminish the US debt.

He also brings enthusiasm from the party's conservative base, which has only reluctantly backed Romney because of the moderate positions he once took on social issues. Ryan is against abortion rights and has a top rating from gun-rights groups.

Ryan was campaigning alone on Monday for the first time since getting the vice presidential nod.

The Obama campaign has been attacking Ryan's plans for Medicare and for reshaping the nation's tax system. That was expected to continue as Obama campaigns across Iowa for three days by bus - his longest visit to a single state yet in the 2012 campaign.

Attending campaign fundraisers in Chicago on Sunday, the president called Ryan the "ideological leader" of the Republican Party.

"He is a decent man, he is a family man, he is an articulate spokesperson for Governor Romney's vision, but it is a vision that I fundamentally disagree with," Obama said in his first public comments about Ryan's selection.

Race shapes up

With Ryan in place, the race takes full shape. Romney portrays himself as a proponent of a friendlier business climate seeking to revitalize the economy and rein in federal spending, and Obama casts himself as a defender of middle-class families and federal spending on health care, retirement pensions and education.

Looking to define the Republican ticket's views on Medicare, the Obama campaign released an online video on Monday featuring seniors in Florida talking about how Ryan's proposed changes to the popular health care programme could affect them. The video aims to portray Obama as Medicare's protector.

Romney tried on Sunday to distance himself from his running mate's budget plan, making clear that his ideas rule, not Ryan's.

"I have my budget plan," Romney said, "And that's the budget plan we're going to run on."

An enthusiastic Romney seemed to feed off the energy as the pair faced an estimated 10 000 supporters in Wisconsin, where Ryan returned to his home state for the first time in his new role.

"If you follow the campaign of Barack Obama, he's going to do everything in his power to make this the lowest, meanest, negative campaign in history. We're not going to let that happen. This is going to be a campaign about ideas, about the future of America," Romney said.

Despite the weekend crowds, Ryan is not yet well-known. A recent CNN/ORC international poll found a majority of voters had no opinion of the congressman, who is far from a household name. Nearly 40% had never heard of him, and 16% weren't sure what they thought of him.

The US president is not chosen by nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests. With most of the 50 states already solidly in the column of either Romney or Obama, the candidates are campaigning hard in the handful of states that do not reliably vote for one party or another.

Obama was showcasing the powers of incumbency on Monday as he toured a farm and discussed ways of addressing the country's worst drought in decades. The administration was directing the Agriculture Department to buy up to $170m worth of meat and poultry to provide relief to farmers and ranchers.

Obama blamed Ryan for blocking a farm bill that could help Iowa and other states cope with the drought.

"If you happen to see Congressman Ryan, tell him how important this farm bill is to Iowa and our rural communities," Obama planned to say, according to excerpts of his speech released ahead of his appearance in Council Bluffs.

Read more on:    barack obama  |  mitt romney  |  paul ryan  |  us  |  us election 2012

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