LYNCHBURG, Va. (AP) — Paul Ryan hopped out of a big, black pickup truck and rocked a conservative Bible Belt crowd by accusing President Barack Obama of weakening the nation's military with the same budget-reduction deal he once supported.
Ryan, Mitt Romney's Republican vice-presidential running mate, delivered his attack to a crowd emboldened by the presidential debate two weeks ago and awaiting Tuesday's second-of-three debates between Romney and Obama.
Taking aim at "the absolute unraveling of the Obama foreign policy," Ryan said the proposed cuts to the nation's military, particularly in a state with the highest proportion of military and federal employment in the nation, would be devastating economically and strategically.
"What we are witnessing is a projection of weakness, and that projection of weakness emboldens our adversaries and scares our allies," Ryan told about 2,000 supporters gathered on a hillside under clear skies on a cool autumn day outside a factory that makes industrial conveyor belts.
"Our adversaries are more willing to test us and our allies are less willing to trust us," Ryan said.
The deficit-reduction act was a compromise between the Republicans, who control the House of Representatives, and Obama and the Democratic Senate. It allows for an increase in the nation's debt ceiling in return for $1.5 trillion in targeted spending cuts. A bipartisan committee assigned to identify the cuts failed, and thus far, so has Congress.
Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over whether to include new revenues in the deficit-reduction plan. Unless Congress and the White House reach a deal by Jan. 2, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts take effect in the 2013 budget year, and half of the cuts will be in the defense budget.
Ryan didn't mention that he, as well as other key Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., also supported the deal. Ryan advocated its passage on the House floor.
The stop in Lynchburg, seat of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell family's evangelical empire, was the first of two scheduled Tuesday in a state where Republicans have found new confidence since Obama's lackluster performance in his first debate with Romney on Oct. 3.
Ryan made a second stop in Virginia, addressing thousands in an exhibition hall in Fredericksburg for 20 minutes and sending them home with plenty of time to spare to catch the debate two hours later. He touched upon many of the themes he addressed in Lynchburg and stressed the important role Virginia will play in what he called "no ordinary election."
"Virginia and a handful of other states will determine the future of our nation — not for the next four years but for a generation," Ryan said to supporters who broke out several times into chants of "Romney! Romney! Romney!" and USA! USA! USA!"
Ryan spoke in front of a huge blue banner that read, "We Need a Real Recovery," a message that hit home with Vesna Surette, 42, who arrived early for the rally with her five children, ages 5 to 11.
"My life is worse now than it was four years ago," Surette, of Fredericksburg, said, citing higher fuel and food prices. " I would just like it to get it a little easier. I know he's not going to solve all the problems but just put us back on track."
At the earlier stop in Lynchburg, Rick Edwards, a 70-year-old retiree who operates a small consulting business, said he might not have driven the 12 miles from his Forest, Va., home to the Lynchburg rally before the debate.
"I think that debate created this excitement — that and Joe Biden's showing in the debate with Ryan last week," said Edwards, who calls himself a conservative-leaning independent.
"Before the debate, he (Romney) had a real uphill battle, and a difficult road getting to 270 electoral votes. Now, I think it's a 50-50 proposition with a clear opportunity to pull ahead in the last three weeks," he said. "That debate sealed it for me."
Obama supporter Patience Mouzon, a 19-year-old student from Atlanta at the Falwell family's Liberty University in Lynchburg, said she could feel the resolve and confidence of the school's overwhelmingly conservative student body strengthen after the debate.
"In government class, we've been debating the (presidential) debate, and I can feel it when I start to voice my opinion, opposition for me being liberal and speaking out for Obama," she said, describing her experience at the Christian school established by Falwell, who founded the Moral Majority.
She said she had considered transferring to another university, "but I think I am going to stay because it's teaching me how to deal with views that are different from mine."
Before Ryan arrived, Virginia's confrontational, conservative Republican attorney general roused the crowd by describing the Obama administration as an outlaw regime.
"I've spent my first three years (in office) just trying to get this administration to follow the law," said Cuccinelli, who is battling Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling for the GOP gubernatorial nomination next year.
Cuccinelli, among the first state attorneys general to sue challenging the constitutionality of the "Obamacare" health reforms of 2010, failed to note that a divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law that Romney and Ryan propose to repeal and replace.
Associated Press writer Steve Szkotak in Fredericksburg, Va., contributed to this report.