Romney, Ryan rouse crowds
N.C audiences hail Republican ticket; Democrats rip VP pick's views
HIGH POINT, N.C – A buoyant Mitt Romney and new running mate Paul Ryan propelled their bid for the White House through a series of boisterous events Sunday in the first day of extensive campaigning together since the former Massachusetts governor chose Ryan as his political partner.
His events having the energy of a rock concert, Romney fed on the fervor of the crowds, dispensing high fives, effusively praising his new pick, and at one point joined a chanting crowd: “Paul, Paul, Paul.”
Supporters stood in line for hours to get a glimpse of the new Republican ticket.
“I am so happy, I am so happy to have my teammate now, the two of us,” Romney told an overflow crowd of 3,000 outside the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, N.C. “This is a guy with extraordinary character.”
Crowds, which used to be in the hundreds at Romney’s recent events, grew into the thousands, with supporters breaking into thunderous chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
Onlookers recorded the events on video cameras; one woman squealed: “I shook Paul’s hand.’’
“I feel like I’m at Woodstock!” gushed Pat McCrory, former mayor of Charlotte and the state’s Republican nominee for governor.
Romney seemed energized by the crowd and clamor, and he and Ryan continued to display an easy camaraderie.
It remains, however, unclear whether the excitement can be sustained as the Democrats begin focusing withering criticism on his views.
“Congressman Ryan is a right-wing ideologue, and that is reflected in the positions that he’s taken,” David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “He is quite extreme — good, good person, you know, genial person — but his views are quite harsh.”
President Obama, who has sparred several times with Ryan over economic policies, made his first comments on Ryan’s selection during a fund-raiser in Chicago.
“I know him, I welcome him to the race,” Obama said. “He is a decent man, he is a family man, he is an articulate spokesman for Governor Romney’s vision. But it is a vision that I fundamentally disagree with.”
Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, spearheaded the House GOP’s contentious budget proposals, which call for major budget cuts and a dramatic reform of the entitlement programs Medicaid and Medicare.
Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Romney, said on Sunday that Romney would have signed Ryan’s budget plan if it were on his desk as president. But he and others were quick to point out that Romney would be the ultimate decision-maker.
‘‘Governor Romney is at the top of the ticket,’’ Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said Sunday during a briefing for reporters. “And Governor Romney’s vision for the country is something that Congressman Ryan supports.”
Ryan’s views are expected to dominate the next several days of the campaign, particularly on Medicare. Democrats noted that Ryan was not continuing on with Romney for the Florida portion of his four-state bus trip. “My mom is a Medicare senior in Florida,” Ryan told CBS News’s Bob Schieffer during an interview with Romney on “60 Minutes.” “Our point is we need to preserve their benefits, because government made promises to them that they’ve organized their retirements around. In order to make sure we can do that, you must reform it for those of us who are younger.”
Ryan is expected to visit Florida next weekend.
During their stops here in North Carolina, Romney and Ryan shared an easy rapport, coming on stage together and launching into a tag-team effort to praise one another by highlighting portions of their biographies that they most want to emphasize.
Ryan went first, devoting much of his remarks to an emphatic defense of Romney’s record. He talked about Romney’s business record, he praised his tenure as governor of Massachusetts, and he spoke of how Romney helped salvage the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Romney stood by Ryan’s side, clapping along and smiling, occasionally waving to the crowd.
“That’s quite a guy, isn’t it?” Romney said as he took the microphone in Mooresville. “Isn’t that a terrific guy? I’m so proud to have him on our team.”
Romney casts Ryan as a reluctant warrior in Washington, even though Ryan is a seven-term congressman, a former Capitol Hill staffer, and has little of the private sector experience Romney values.
How Ryan is defined over the coming weeks could play a crucial role in the course of the election. A recent CNN/ORC International poll found that 54 percent of those surveyed did not know enough about Ryan to have an opinion, 27 percent said they viewed him favorably, and 19 percent said they viewed him unfavorably.
In the near term, Ryan appears to be animating the Republican base. Romney’s campaign on Sunday said it raised $3.5 million in the first 24 hours after the choice was revealed.
It is less clear how much he can help Romney reach other key constituencies, such as Hispanic voters in swing states or elderly voters in Florida. Several attending Romney campaign events on Sunday said they would have voted for Romney regardless, but said now they were enthusiastic and planned to volunteer for the campaign.
“Yesterday, I was voting against Obama,” said Raymond Adams, a 65-year-old metal working business owner from Winston Salem, N.C. “Today, I’m voting for Romney because of his pick.”
“I love him,” said Debbie Dunlap, a 46-year-old interior design teacher from Charlotte. “He’s going to excite the Tea Party and get them on board . . . I look forward to him debating Joe Biden. That’s going to be a smack-down.”
There were some hitches, which underscore the fact that while these two men are now tied at the hip politically — and have formed a quick bond — they have spent relatively little time together. Romney initially announced Ryan on Saturday as “the next president.” On Sunday, Ryan referred to Romney as “governor of Virginia.”
Within 36 hours of announcing the pick, Romney and Ryan sat together for the interview that aired on Sunday night’s “60 Minutes.”
The pair defended each other’s record and vowed a spirited, and issues-oriented, challenge against the president. Ryan gave a full-throated defense of Romney’s role at Bain Capital, which has been the focus of Democratic attacks that harnessed Romney’s tenure as chief executive there with tales of massive profits for the private equity firm as some of its companies cut jobs and benefits. Romney’s role, Ryan said, was to help the firm be an engine of job creation.
“That’s what we want to see happen throughout the country because it creates more jobs, it creates better take home pay, it gives people better futures,’’ Ryan said. “Why wouldn’t we want a leader like that who knows how to make those kinds of executive decisions in the White House to help us turn this economy around.’’
Ryan also said he would only release two years of tax returns, the same as Romney.
After spending Sunday campaigning together, Romney and Ryan parted ways, with no plans to rejoin until the Republican National Convention in about two weeks. Ryan on Monday is campaigning in Iowa, putting him head to head with Obama, who is also campaigning in the state. Romney will resume his bus tour in Florida.
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.