Mitt Romney's selection of Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate began to reshape the presidential race Monday as Ryan and President Obama both made appearances at the Iowa State Fair.
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — Both parties raced to define the newly complete Republican presidential ticket Monday as Mitt Romney’s selection of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate began to reshape the race.
President Obama, beginning a bus tour in Iowa, sought to use Ryan’s seven terms in the House to link the Republican ticket to dysfunction in Congress. In North Carolina, Vice President Joseph Biden deepened an assault on the GOP ticket over Ryan’s proposal to slash the federal budget and overhaul Medicare.
The Romney campaign tested Ryan’s ability to carry its message of a revived private sector, giving him the weighty task of going head to head against Obama in Iowa — a state the Democrat won four years ago.
And the Republican team gave a glimpse of how it hopes to deploy the 42-year-old: as an energetic charmer at ease campaigning in his native Midwest.
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On Monday, he took the spotlight in front of thousands at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. Obama and Ryan just missed going mano a mano at the fairgrounds, although Ryan appeared on the famous political soapbox for brief remarks during which he was heckled as he spoke to a generally supportive crowd.
“Are you going to cut Medicare?” one woman screamed from a few yards in front of Ryan.
“Stop the war on the middle class!” yelled an older, bespectacled man.
The audience erupted into chants of “USA,” drowning out Ryan.
Two women tried to climb onstage but were hustled away by security officers before they could unfurl a banner.
Ryan, of Wisconsin, tried to make light of it. “It’s funny, because Iowans and Wisconsinites, we like to be respectful of one another,” he said. “These ladies must not be from Iowa or Wisconsin.”
The president, by contrast, waited until the end of the day to make his appearance and steered clear of the freewheeling give and take of the soapbox. Instead, Obama shook hands with supporters and quickly acquired an “Iowa State Fair, Nothing Compares” baseball hat, which he unfolded and put on. He was accompanied by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa.
Walking through the fairgrounds in Des Moines, Ryan refused to answer questions about his policy positions.
“We’ll play stump the running mate later,” he said, flashing a smile to the throng of trailing reporters and photographers.
The choice of Council Bluffs to open this week’s bus tour is significant not only because Iowa is so critical to the president’s re-election hopes, but also because it is just across the Missouri River from, and in the same television market as, Omaha. Because of Nebraska’s split electoral map, the president is trying to scrape together as many votes there as he can get — he won in the state’s 2nd Congressional District in 2008, the first Democrat to do so since 1964. The win gave him one electoral vote in Nebraska to McCain’s four.
The president addressed the drought that has taken a toll on crops, saying he has directed the Agriculture Department to buy up to $150 million worth of meat and poultry to help relieve farmers and ranchers. The president has been pushing passage of the farm bill, but House Republican leaders chose not to bring a bipartisan, committee-passed measure to the floor before the August recess and instead passed a short-term emergency aid package that Senate Democrats refused to consider, calling it too limited.
“I am told that Governor Romney’s new running mate, Paul Ryan, might be around Iowa the next few days,” the president told thousands at Bayliss Park, a square in downtown Council Bluffs. “So if you happen to see Congressman Ryan, tell him how important this farm bill is in our rural communities. We’ve got to put politics aside and do the right thing for rural America and for Iowa.”
Obama campaign officials picked up the theme. Asked by reporters whether Ryan, whose House Budget Committee does not have jurisdiction over the farm measure, is to blame for its troubles, adviser Jen Psaki responded: “Well, Paul Ryan happens to be in Congress, as you may have heard. And he has not, as far as we can tell, taken steps to move the farm bill forward.”
Romney officials pointed out that Ryan supported the House’s disaster-relief bill. “The truth is, no one will work harder to defend farmers and ranchers than the Romney-Ryan ticket,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said.
Biden took an even more aggressive tone against his new rival. Campaigning in North Carolina, the vice president reminded voters of Ryan’s role in crafting proposals to dramatically reduce spending on education and infrastructure while lowering tax rates.
“What’s gutsy about gutting Medicare, Medicaid, education?” Biden asked at a rally in Durham. “It’s not fair to the middle class and the working poor, and it will not grow the economy or reduce the deficit.”
The Romney campaign, still basking in a rush of attention two days after the Ryan announcement, offered less of a coordinated message than its Democratic counterparts. But with both Romney and Ryan in states with sizable elderly populations — the presumptive nominee spent the day in Florida — both men avoided focusing on Ryan’s plans for Medicare, the health-care program for retirees and those older than 65.
Generally, Republicans believe they can blunt Democratic attacks on Ryan’s Medicare proposal by going on the offensive and portraying his plan as a politically courageous attempt to salvage the program by halting its unmanageable growth.
But on Monday, Romney declined to offer a forceful defense of Ryan’s budget. And, after indicating in an interview Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that he would run on his own budget plans — not Ryan’s — Romney, appearing at a Miami news conference, repeatedly declined to outline what differentiates his ideas from Ryan’s.
“I’m sure there are places that my budget is different than his, but we’re on the same page,” he said. “As I’ve said before, we want to get America on track to a balanced budget. … My plan for Medicare is very similar to his plan for Medicare.”
With all four candidates on the two tickets hitting the trail simultaneously for the first time, new polls showed the necessity for both parties to quickly define Ryan. The numbers suggested that, despite his years on Capitol Hill, the congressman remains unknown to many Americans.
A new Washington Post-ABC News survey released Monday showed that positive views of Ryan increased by 15 percentage points after Romney named him to the ticket Saturday. But it also indicated that by Sunday, 30 percent of respondents still registered no opinion of him.
In a new USA Today/Gallup poll, 39 percent thought Ryan was an “excellent” or “pretty good” pick for a running mate — but 42 percent said he was a “fair” or “poor” choice.
Includes material from The New York Times and Bloomberg News