Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan made his first Ohio campaign visit on Wednesday at Miami University — where he graduated in 1992 — and said he and Mitt Romney were committed to their plan to balance the federal budget and strengthen the middle class.
Ryan’s ties to Ohio quickly emerged and his alma mater became the stage for his Buckeye State debut. About 5,500 people turned out to hear Ryan speak on the quad behind the engineering building, according to the Secret Service.
The race for Ohio’s crucial 18 electoral votes is neck-and-neck, according to three polls released this week. The Rasmussen poll shows Romney and President Barack Obama tied at 45 percent, Public Policy showed Romney three points behind Obama and the Purple Strategies Poll shows Romney within two points.
Medicare has surged to the forefront of the election debate since Ryan joined the Republican ticket on Saturday. The budget plan drafted by Ryan last year would make huge changes to the entitlement program for older Americans.
Ryan didn’t shy away from the subject, challenging Obama to discuss the issue.
“We want this debate,” Ryan said. “We need this debate and we will win this debate.”
Ryan said Obama cut $716 billion from Medicare to pay for his health care plan.
“The president’s campaign says this raid of Medicare to pay for Obamacare, which leads to fewer services for current seniors, is an achievement,” Ryan said.
Ryan did not mention that those cuts were also included in his plan, passed by House Republicans.
“Today, Mitt Romney forced Paul Ryan to attack his own budget. Congressman Ryan knows that the $716 billion in Medicare savings that he included in two of his own budgets do not cut a single guaranteed Medicare benefit,” said Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner. “It’s a shame that someone picked for his ‘strong beliefs’ is now abandoning them just to help Mr. Romney score a political point.”
Each campaign lobbed heated remarks about the negative tone of the other campaign this week, and Ryan blasted Obama for a campaign “based on anger and division.”
“We will not duck the tough issues, we will lead,” Ryan said. “We will not blame others — we will take responsibility.”
Ryan is a Wisconsin native but spent four years at Miami and graduated in 1992 with a dual degree in economics and political science. He has served as a U.S. representative from Wisconsin since 1998 and chairs the House Budget Committee.
Ryan was chosen to speak at Miami’s 2009 commencement ceremony. The student newspaper editorial board then slammed the choice for not being prominent enough.
It’s hard to argue Ryan’s prominence now, five days after Romney tapped him to be his running mate.
Ryan’s former economics professor Rich Hart gave a short introduction, where he recalled chats with Ryan about economics models. Hart called Ryan bright, articulate, intellectually curious and inquisitive.
“Paul is a man of ideas, a man of vision,” Hart said.
Ryan told the crowd he spent a lot of his “formative years” on the campus, noting he likes his Skyline chili “5 Way” and he couldn’t cut it on the school’s hockey team.
He called for more jobs for young people, noting a recent study that found half of recent college graduates did not have a job in their field of study. He did not talk about college affordability or Pell Grants, loans available to the most financially needy students.
Democrats have attacked Ryan for the big changes he proposed to Pell Grants in his budget plan, which would result in fewer students meeting eligibility requirements and end the interest-free benefits on Subsidized Stafford loans for undergraduate students.
Ryan is Miami’s second vice presidential candidate. The first was Greene County native Whitelaw Reid, who ran unsuccessfully in 1892 on the ticket of incumbent President Benjamin Harrison, another Miami graduate.
Ryan has another Ohio event this morning in the Canton area.