Romney's ideas rule, not Ryan's
HIGH POINT, N.C. (AP) -- 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. But Democrats weren't about to let them off that hook.
President Barack 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 "right wing ideologue."
"It is a pick that is 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," Axelrod said Sunday on CNN.
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 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 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. They 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.
"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 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.
Three months from Election Day, polls find Obama with a narrow lead over Romney, though the race remains tight in key battleground states.