A few days after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan as his running mate, the race is on to define the Wisconsin con-gressman in front of Colorado voters.
Is he the bold visionary poised to reverse decades of Americans’ increasing dependence on the federal government? Or is he the dangerous extremist bent on eviscerating Medicare and leaving vulnerable Americans to fend for themselves?
Maybe he’s the boyish fitness buff who can boast of the 14ers he’s climbed and regularly visits the state to take his family camping?
While most would concur with the last characterization — though not all would agree that it matters — the picture of Paul Ryan, the freshly minted vice presidential candidate, depends on where Coloradans stood this week.
presidential candidate Paul Ryan on Aug. 14.
For the thousands of cheering supporters packed inside a gymnasium in Lakewood on Tuesday morning, Ryan was the hero they’d been waiting for.
In a brisk and vigorous 20-minute speech at Lakewood High School, he brought the crowd to its feet more than a dozen times with an aggressive indictment of President Barack Obama’s years in office and a string of familiar pledges that Republicans can turn things around.
“We’ve gone from hope and change to attack and blame,” he said, blasting Obama for what he called the Democrat’s broken promise to change the tone in Washington.
Over the whoops and cheers of a crowd that appeared ready to burst, Ryan pledged that Republicans would handle things differently. “Here is our commitment to you,” he said. “We are not going to duck the tough issues, we’re going to lead. We’re not going to blame others for our mistakes, we’re going to take responsibility.”
But for Democrats at an Obama for America campaign office a half dozen blocks away, Ryan represented a sharp turn even further to the right for the Romney campaign, one that they said would leave the struggling middle class thrown under the figurative bus.
By adding Ryan to the ticket, said state House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, “Mitt Romney has doubled down on his commitment to a very flawed economic theory. It’s a theory that says you can give the wealthy more budget-busting tax cuts balanced on the backs of the middle class and seniors, yet somehow deliver a stronger economy. But it wouldn’t.” Ferrandino said a study using Romney’s own projections calculated that Ryan’s plan would cost the country more than a million jobs.
State Sen. Betty Boyd, D-Lakewood, attacked Ryan from a different angle, blasting his congressional record on women’s rights and on abortion policy.
“Mitt Romney has already had trouble appealing to the women of Colorado, but with Congressman Paul Ryan on the ticket, his job just got that much harder,” said Boyd. “Ryan is extremely conservative and his positions are completely out of touch with women. Ryan is extremely anti-choice and anti-women’s rights.”
Boyd pointed to Ryan’s vote against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and sponsorship of a federal law that would have defined human life as beginning at fertilization — similar to the so-called “personhood” amendment, defeated twice by Colorado voters but likely headed for the ballot again this November — as among the reasons she said women would recoil from Ryan.
It was only Ryan’s second solo appearance since Romney elevated him to the GOP ticket on Saturday, a surprise announcement that left conservatives breathless and liberals salivating at the chance to turn the presidential contest into a referendum on Ryan’s budget plans instead of the moribund economy.
Significantly, the rally took place in suburban Jefferson County, just a few miles from the county fairgrounds, where Romney addressed supporters 12 days earlier in his first appearance after returning from a trip overseas. “As goes Jeffco, so goes Colorado,” reads a sign hanging in the Lakewood office of the Obama campaign — an oft-stated conclusion with national implications this year, as the state tops most lists of key battlegrounds in the presidential race.
The boisterous crowd at Lakewood High School — estimates ran as high as 2,400 squeezed into the gymnasium with a couple hundred spilling out into the surrounding hallways — kept the energy level high throughout the rally, at times breaking into patriotic song and at others erupting in deafening cheers whenever a Republican politician strolled into view.
After ticking off what he termed Obama’s failures — including persistently high unemployment and a burgeoning deficit — Ryan warned supporters to get ready for a nasty campaign.
“Here’s where we’ve arrived. He can’t run on his record, he hasn’t changed his tune, so all he has left is to distort, to demagogue, to divide to try and confuse, to distract you from the real issues in this election.”
At various points, Ryan laid blame on the president for an economy seemingly stuck in neutral.
“When you take a look back four years ago,” he said, “we had a really tough economy. And without a doubt, President Obama inherited a difficult situation. Here’s the problem — he made it worse. We have seen a failure of leadership, a failure of leadership to get the economy going, to create jobs, to get our spending and deficit under control.”
GOP policies, he said, would throw the economy into gear.
“What Mitt Romney and I are offering, the Romney-Ryan plan for a stronger middle class, is designed to get people back to work,” he said. “It is designed to create jobs. If we get this economy growing like we know we can, we can create 12 million jobs in four years. We’re offering solutions.”
At a press conference in Denver the day before Ryan’s Lakewood appearance, more Democrats sought to paint the Republican into a corner before he would have the chance to introduce himself to the state.
Although Romney has recently distanced himself somewhat from the so-called Ryan Budget, a blueprint passed by House Republicans but ignored by the Democratic-controlled Senate, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter didn’t sound convinced.
“Ryan’s extreme budget plan, which Mitt Romney has embraced as ‘marvelous,’ would give even bigger tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires paid for on the backs of Colorado seniors, veterans and middle class families,” said Perlmutter. “Instead of honoring our men and women in uniform, the Romney-Ryan ticket would jeopardize the health care and benefits our veterans have earned and deserve. We cannot stand aside while Romney and Ryan try to break the promises we have made to those who have served our country.”
Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio said that Ryan’s approach was based on flawed principles.
“It’s a theory that says you can give the wealthy budget-busting tax cuts and place greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, and somehow deliver a stronger economy as a result. We’ve already tried this theory, and it failed. Top-down, trickle-down, upside-down — whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t work. Our economy prospers only from a strong and growing middle class,” he said.
The liberal group ProgressNow Colorado arranged for three volunteers to attend the Lakewood rally bearing tickets with the names “A. Fertilized Egg,” “Fertilized Egg” and “Ziggy Zygote,” and released copies of the campaign-issued tickets to the media to bring attention to Ryan’s position on personhood legislation. The group also hired an airplane to fly overhead towing a banner that read, “Hey girl. Choose me. Lose choice — P. Ryan,” a reference to an Internet phenomenon that pokes fun at actor Ryan Gosling using the phrase “Hey girl” followed by insufferably charming phrases.
On Monday night, Ryan attended two private fundraisers in the Denver area, reputed to have raised several million dollars, and was set to depart for Las Vegas after wrapping up events in Colorado.
Ryan and his family had been scheduled to go on a camping trip in Colorado starting on Saturday but changed plans when Romney’s vice presidential pick was unveiled. He said his wife and three children were camping in a National Forest in the state this week but didn’t specify where.