Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan showed vigor and enthusiasm speaking to an overflow crowd at West Springfield High School on Friday afternoon. He literally dared Democrats to attack him on entitlement reform.
“We are going to win the debate on Medicare,” he said in a high school gym packed to the gills with suburban northern Virginians. The vow brought whoops and cheers.
“There is only one person who has treated Medicare as a piggy bank, and that’s President Obama,” Ryan added, referring to how the administration shifted funds from Medicare to cover the costs of Obamacare.
The bold declaration underscores the extent to which the Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign believes that picking Ryan has altered the dynamic of the race. Democrats have been chomping at the bit to debate this issue, certain it will hurt Republicans with moderates.
But the Romney campaign evidently believes that the debate has evolved beyond that and voters understand that entitlement programs need reform. Ryan charged Democrats were demagoguing the issue.
“They are much more concerned about the next election than the next generation,” Ryan said.
At the very least, the Friday event shows that the pick of Ryan has given the GOP grassroots a shot in the arm. Every random Republican voter approached by the Examiner said a variation of the following: Romney was not their first choice, but the Ryan pick laid their lingering qualms to rest.
“He’s got it all,” said Betty-Ann Olson, a self-described Tea Party activist, of Ryan. “I am very pleased.”
“It’s a great choice: I don’t have any doubts,” said Dale Dunn, a former Newt Gingrich supporter.
Jim Parmelee, a veteran Virginia GOP activist, was “cautiously optimistic” that the ticket could win back the state, a crucial pickup if the Romney-Ryan ticket is to win nation-wide. President Obama’s 2008 win turned the once solidly GOP state into a new battleground.
“It’s strange: For the longest time it was an easy win for us. Now it is much more exciting because it is contested. Of course, I’d rather it be the way it was before,” he said. Parmelee noted that on the one hand it was unfortunate for the GOP that they have to expend resources here. On the other hand, so do the Democrats for a state that isn’t a gimme for them either.
Virginia is a tossup in the presidential race. The most recent poll, by a group called Purple Strategies, puts Romney ahead, 48-45%. A Rasmussen poll earlier this month had Obama ahead, 48-46%.
The event also featured Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who was particularly upset with the administration over human rights issues. “In China, we have 25 Catholic Bishops under house arrest and this administration does nothing,” he said.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and former Alabama congressman Artur Davis joined Ryan on the stage. Davis, who recently switched parties to join the GOP, introduced Ryan to the crowd. Davis is rumored to be considering a political comeback in this state, including a potential congressional bid.
Davis told the crowd his major disagreement with Ryan is that he is a Led Zeppelin fan. “I am a Genesis man myself,” Davis explained.
Ryan gave an energetic 20 minute speech hitting the administration over the deficit, the economy, and how it has conducted the campaign. He spoke without notes or any aids. Halfway through somebody in the front row shouted, “No teleprompters!”
“That’s right. No teleprompters. Everyone says that no matter where we go,” he responded.