GOP looks to distinguish Mitt Romney from Paul Ryan budget plans
Virginian-Pilot, Amanda Lucier) MAGS OUT, Associated Press
HIGH POINT, N.C. — In Paul Ryan's high-energy debut as Republican vice presidential candidate, Mitt Romney's campaign made one thing clear: Romney's ideas rule, not his running mate's.
Romney put gentle but unmistakable distance between his agenda and Ryan's hot-potato budget proposals on Sunday as the new team soaked up excitement from partisans in North Carolina and Ryan's home state of Wisconsin.
He walked a careful line as he campaigned with Ryan by his side in North Carolina, singling out his running mate's work "to make sure we can save Medicare." But the presidential candidate never said whether he embraced Ryan's plan himself.
Democrats weren't about to let them off that hook.
President Barack 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."
During the Republican primary, Romney had called Ryan's budget a "bold and exciting effort" that was "very much needed."
Ryan proposed to reshape the long-standing entitlement 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 current law would provide.
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' "60 Minutes." "That's how we make Medicare work down the road."
Romney aides, echoing talking points they circulated to party leaders and operatives, 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," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told reporters Sunday. "And Gov. Romney's vision for the country is something that Congressman Ryan supports,"
On CNN, Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie said Romney would have signed Ryan's proposed austere budget if it landed on his desk as president. But he also emphasized that Romney would "be putting forward his own budget" if he wins the election.
Romney's selection of Ryan has jolted the presidential contest, until now one that had done little to draw the public's attention, and set the contours for the fall campaign: Romney as a proponent of a friendlier business climate seeking to revitalize the economy and rein in federal spending and Obama casting himself as a defender of middle-class families and federal spending on health care, retirement pensions and education.
The running mate pick also shifted the campaign debate, at least temporarily, to the pressing economic challenges facing the country — a debate both Romney and Obama have said they wanted to have even as the dialogue had spiraled into nasty, personal attacks. Sunday was a marked departure from the previous week, when the race for the White House devolved into name-calling and accusations of lying from both campaigns.
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