HIGH POINT, N.C. — Cheered by the biggest crowds of his campaign, Republican Mitt Romney declared Sunday that 42-year-old running mate Paul Ryan is ready to be president, but said his own budget plan, not the more detailed proposals of his partner, will be the basis of his White House bid.

"I have my budget plan," he said. "And that's the budget plan we're going to run on."

Earlier, Romney walked a careful line as he campaigned with Ryan by his side in North Carolina, singling out his running mate's work "to make sure we can save Medicare." But the presidential candidate never said whether he embraced Ryan's austere plan himself, and he addressed the matter more directly in a "60 Minutes" interview, with Ryan still with him, that aired Sunday night on CBS.

Democrats weren't about to let them off that hook.

President Barack Obama, attending campaign fundraisers Sunday in Chicago, tagged Ryan as the "ideological leader" of the Republican Party.

"He is a decent man, he is a family man, he is an articulate spokesman for Gov. Romney's vision but it is a vision that I fundamentally disagree with," Obama said in his first public comments about Ryan's selection.

Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod and other aides spent Sunday trying to brand Ryan's budget "the Ryan-Romney plan."

During the Republican primary, Romney had called Ryan's budget a "bold and exciting effort" that was "very much needed."

Ryan proposed to reshape the long-standing entitlement by setting up a voucher-like system to let future retirees shop for private health coverage or choose the traditional program – a plan that independent budget analysts say would probably mean smaller increases in benefits than current law would provide.

Romney and Ryan, in their first joint television interview Sunday, were clearly mindful that some of Ryan's proposals don't sit well with key constituencies, among them seniors in critical states like Florida and Ohio. Each man sought to reassure older voters they wouldn't take away their benefits, with Ryan saying his mother is "a Medicare senior in Florida" and Romney vowing there would be "no changes" for seniors currently counting on the popular federal program.

"In America, the nature of this country has been giving people more freedom, more choices," Romney said. "That's how we make Medicare work down the road."

Romney praised his running mate for his policy depth and analytical skills and said if they should win the election, Ryan will surely be consulted in big decisions – "along with other individuals." He added: "Obviously I have to make the final call in important decisions."

The presumptive presidential nominee said Ryan, "if it were necessary, could become president." And Romney extolled his running mate's Washington experience, despite having criticized primary rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum for their years in the nation's capital.

Ryan said he planned to release two years of personal tax returns to the public. The wealthy Romney is also releasing two years of returns, despite pressure from Democrats and some Republicans to provide more information about how he manages his millions.

Romney's selection of Ryan has jolted the presidential contest, until now one that had done little to draw the public's attention, and set the contours for the fall campaign: Romney as a proponent of a friendlier business climate seeking to revitalize the economy and rein in federal spending and Obama casting himself as a defender of middle-class families and federal spending on health care, retirement pensions and education.

The running mate pick also shifted the campaign debate, at least temporarily, to the pressing economic challenges facing the country – a debate both Romney and Obama have said they wanted to have even as the dialogue had spiraled into nasty, personal attacks. Sunday was a marked departure from the previous week, when the race for the White House devolved into name-calling and accusations of lying from both campaigns.

Three months from Election Day, polls find Obama with a narrow lead over Romney, though the race remains tight in key battleground states. And while Ryan's selection raised the role of government spending and Medicare in the election, the fundamentals of the campaign remained unchanged: a race defined by a weak economy and high unemployment, measured most recently at 8.3 percent in July.

Romney, seeking to pull his campaign out of a summer slump, appeared to relish in campaigning alongside the youthful and energetic Ryan.

"This is Day Two for me," a gleeful Romney told a campaign rally in Moorseville, N.C. "This is Day Two on our comeback tour to get America strong again, to rebuild the promise of America." He meant a comeback for the country, but that could apply as well to his campaign.

The duo blitzed through North Carolina – a competitive battleground state in the November election – as part of a multistate bus tour. The pair ended the day in Waukesha, Wis., with a homecoming-themed event for Ryan, who was in tears as he took the stage.

Romney, emboldened by the enthusiastic crowds that greeted the pair Sunday, wrapped up a day of campaigning with a sharp shot at the tone of Obama's campaign. "Mr. President, take your campaign out of the gutter," he said.

Romney then planned to head to Florida and Ohio as the week begins, while Ryan was scheduled to travel to Iowa on Monday as the ticket looked to cover as much ground as possible.

For Ryan, the weekend of campaigning was a chance to make a first impression on many voters. A recent CNN/ORC international poll found a majority of voters had no opinion of the congressman, an up and comer in Washington but far from a household name. Nearly 40 percent had never heard of him and 16 percent weren't sure what they thought of him.

The 42-year-old congressman embraced the attack dog role traditionally assumed by the No. 2 on the ticket. He said Obama had turned his 2008 campaign slogan of "hope and change" into "attack and blame."

"We're not going to fall for it," Ryan told a crowd of 5,000 in High Point, N.C.

Obama's campaign had already been trying to tie Romney to Ryan's tough budget blueprint even before the Wisconsin congressman emerged as a contender for the GOP ticket. Democrats believe seniors, those nearing retirement and middle-income voters will view Ryan's long-term budget plan remaking Medicare and cutting trillions in federal spending as a threat to their financial security.

Campaign officials were readying state-specific strategies aimed at seniors in Florida and Ohio, and also planned to court young people and military service members who they believe will be turned off by other elements of Ryan's proposed budget cuts.

As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan is the primary author of conservative tax and spending proposals that the tea party-infused Republican majority approved over vigorous Democratic opposition in 2011 and again in 2012.

They envision transforming Medicare into a program in which future seniors would receive government checks that they could use to purchase health insurance. Under the current program, the government directly pays doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.

Ryan and other supporters say the change is needed to prevent the program from financial calamity. Critics argue it would impose ever-increasing costs on seniors.

Other elements of the budget plan would cut projected spending for Medicaid, which provides health care for the poor, as well as food stamps, student loans and other social programs that Obama and Democrats have pledged to defend.

In all, it projects spending cuts of $5.3 trillion over a decade and would cut future projected deficits substantially. Romney, too, has proposed ambitious cuts in federal spending, but without the specifics that make Ryan's plan so attractive to fiscal conservatives and such a target for Democrats.

Republicans say Ryan could help put Wisconsin, which traditionally has voted Democratic in presidential campaigns, in play and that the Catholic Midwesterner also could appeal to blue-collar voters whom Romney, a Mormon and multimillionaire, has struggled to reach in Iowa and elsewhere.

Obama's campaign had no plans to start running new television ads in Wisconsin following Ryan's pick. Officials said they didn't think Ryan was popular enough statewide to swing Wisconsin toward the Republican ticket.

Obama's campaign argues Ryan's budget could be a powerful campaign tool for the president in states like Pennsylvania and Iowa, in addition to Florida and Ohio.

Down ballot, party leaders hoped to work in tandem with Obama to turn the Ryan budget into a litmus test in congressional races, forcing Republican opponents to take ownership of the plan. The campaign arm of the House Democrats, for example, was urging its lawmakers to call Ryan's budget plan – not the man himself – Romney's new "running mate."

___

Thomas reported from Chicago. Associated Press writer Julie Pace contributed from Washington.

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  • Marco Rubio

    "Throughout his life, Mitt Romney has made great decisions, and choosing Paul Ryan as his running mate is a truly inspired choice. I got to know Paul during my Senate campaign when he endorsed me early on when I was still considered a long shot. Paul Ryan is a courageous reformer who understands our nation's challenges, has proposed bold policy solutions to solve them, and has shown the courage to stand up to President Obama and other Washington politicians trying to tear him down. "The Romney-Ryan ticket is going to win in November because it offers the American people visionary leadership to recapture the free enterprise spirit that has empowered countless Americans to build businesses from scratch and live the American dream. I'm excited about the visionary change a Romney-Ryan team will bring to Washington, and I look forward to campaigning

  • Rob Portman

    <blockquote> "Mitt Romney has made a great choice in Paul Ryan. He is an accomplished public servant and a leading voice on the most pressing issues facing our country. Paul is one of my best friends in Congress and someone I have worked closely with as a former colleague on the House Ways & Means Committee. "Jane and I wish Paul and Janna and their kids the very best. As the Chairman of the Romney campaign in Ohio, I look forward to working with Paul to ensure that the Romney-Ryan ticket carries Ohio and is victorious in November. Most importantly, as a member of the Senate, I look forward to working closely with a Romney-Ryan Administration to restore fiscal sanity and enact pro-growth policies to create jobs."</blockquote>

  • Obama for American Campaign Manager Jim Messina

    <blockquote>"In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy. The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid. His plan also would end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors. As a member of Congress, Ryan rubber-stamped the reckless Bush economic policies that exploded our deficit and crashed our economy. Now the Romney-Ryan ticket would take us back by repeating the same, catastrophic mistakes."</blockquote>

  • Michelle Malkin

  • Michael Moore

  • Brad Woodhouse

  • Rachel Maddow MSNBC

  • mike murphy

  • Michael Steele

  • Larry Sabato

  • davidfrum

  • Charles M. Blow

  • Robert Reich

  • Nilay Patel

  • Mark Harris

  • Progressive Change Campaign Committee

    The Progressive Change Campaign Committee issued the following statement: <blockquote>"Paul Ryan is a right-wing extremist who wants to end Medicare. This is a major unforced error by Mitt Romney. It gives President Obama and Democrats a chance to draw a clear contrast in 2012 by promising not to cut one penny from Medicare or Social Security benefits. If Democrats win in a landslide, this was the game changer." -- Adam Green, co-founder, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a 1 million member grassroots organization</blockquote>

  • Laura Ingraham

  • John Kasich

  • Ari Fleischer

  • Susan B. Anthony List

    The national pro-life organization released the following statement: <blockquote>"By selecting Congressman Ryan as his vice presidential running mate, Governor Romney demonstrates his commitment to protecting American women and unborn children," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of SBA List. "A longtime pro-life advocate and a strong fiscal conservative, Congressman Ryan has insisted that there can be no 'truce' when it comes to advancing the rights of the unborn and achieving fiscal responsibility. He has a pristine pro-life voting record and will be an asset to Governor Romney's campaign. "Pro-life voters are a key demographic and help secure victory in critical elections," continued Dannenfelser. "The addition of a second strong pro-life leader to the ticket energizes the pro-life base - we are thrilled with this pick."</blockquote>

  • GOProud

    <blockquote>"The selection of Paul Ryan is a bold and inspired pick," said Jimmy LaSalvia, Executive Director of GOProud. "Paul Ryan has been the architect of policies that would benefit all Americans, especially gay Americans." "Paul Ryan is one of the few political leaders anywhere in the country willing to tell the American people the truth about the unprecedented budget crisis we are facing, and - more importantly - willing to put forward bold plans to put this country back on the road to fiscal solvency," continued LaSalvia.</blockquote>

  • Log Cabin Republicans

    <blockquote>"Congressman Paul Ryan is a strong choice for vice president, and his addition to the GOP ticket will help Republican candidates up and down the ballot," said R. Clarke Cooper, Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director. "As chairman of the House Budget Committee and author of the Republican "path to prosperity" that provided the blueprint for serious spending cuts in this Congress, nobody is more qualified to articulate a conservative economic vision to restore the American economy and stimulate job creation. </blockquote>

  • Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

  • Jason Chaffetz

  • Center For American Progress President Neera Tanden

    <blockquote>"Just like Sen. John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin and George H.W. Bush's selection of Dan Quayle, Mitt Romney has been cowed by the right wing into choosing an extreme vice presidential nominee who will alienate moderate voters. It's now clearer than ever that as president, Mitt Romney would end Medicare as we know it, and will raise taxes on middle class families by more than $2,000in order to slash taxes on the wealthiest Americans. While there is a lot that can be said about Paul Ryan's extreme views, more important is what this choice says about Mitt Romney: that he is unwilling or unable to stand up to the far-right of his party and select a vice-presidential candidate that is both able to be president on day one and capable of governing by reaching across the aisle."</blockquote>

  • SEIU President Mary Kay Henry

    <blockquote>"If there were ever any doubt that Mitt Romney is not on the side of working people, today's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as a running mate makes it crystal clear. With this choice, Romney has shown the American people that he believes Rep. Ryan's extremist, irresponsible and anti-worker agenda is what's right for our country. "Rep. Ryan has made a name for himself by fighting in the halls of Congress for tax giveaways for the wealthy and big corporations while proposing to gut vital services like Medicare and education, and eliminating any sense of retirement security for working families. His no-holds barred record of attacking seniors, children, and working men and women is frightening for the 99 percent of Americans who are not rich -- but for Mitt Romney it was a calling card to choose him as a running mate."

  • NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan

    <blockquote>"Mitt Romney's choice of Rep. Ryan as his running mate reminds us of why elections matter when it comes to our ability to make personal and private medical decisions," Keenan continued. "The outcome of the 2012 presidential election very well could determine whether abortion remains legal and accessible for the next generation of American women. Romney has pledged that taking away women's rights will be a priority for him and his choice of Ryan amplifies that promise to the extreme anti-choice backers of this ticket. My organization's priority is to make sure President Obama remains in the White House."</blockquote>

  • Kelly Ayotte

  • Herman Cain

  • Rick Perry

  • Tommy Thompson

  • Pete Hoekstra

  • Steve King

  • Eric Cantor

  • Dana Rohrabacher

  • Kenny Marchant

  • Gregg Harper

  • Rick Santorum

  • Rep. Kathy Hochul

    <blockquote>"Americans deserve new ideas for how we can reduce the debt and protect our seniors and the middle class. Just one year ago, Western New York voters rejected the Ryan-Collins policies that would end Medicare as we know it and hurt middle class families while giving more tax cuts to the rich. Our country needs to move forward, not re-hash failed ideas. Given Chris Collins' ongoing support for tax cuts for the rich that add nearly $1 trillion to the deficit and his willingness to send his business to China to line his pockets, it is clear my opponent is going to continue to pursue policies and priorities that have already been rejected."</blockquote>

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski

  • Claire McCaskill

  • Jim DeMint

  • Chris Van Hollen

  • Rep. Mary Bono Mack

  • Sam Brownback

  • John Shimkus

  • Rep. Trent Franks

  • Frank Pallone

  • Michele Bachmann

  • Rob Zerban

    <blockquote>"Now that Paul Ryan's personal ambition has clearly trumped his interest in the First District, I have no doubt he'll find himself out of a job come November. Once Wisconsinites and voters across our country learn the truth about Ryan's radical plot to end Medicare as we know it, de-fund women's health care, and preserve tax breaks for millionaires, they'll vote against him not just once, but twice. In the coming weeks, our campaign will work with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to continue getting the word out on Ryan's indefensible record, and building momentum to ensure victory on Election Day."</blockquote>

  • Scott Walker

    <blockquote>"Governor Mitt Romney made a bold and reform-minded selection in Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. This election has to be about who is going to look out for the next generation. America needs a comeback team to turn around the economy and to turn around the fiscal status of our country. Romney and Ryan have the ideas and the experience needed to take on these core issues. This is a great day for Wisconsin and an even greater day for America."</blockquote>