Rep. Paul D. Ryan, accompanied by Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, at the Iowa State… (Conrad Schmidt / Associated…)
DES MOINES -- The soapbox at the Iowa State Fair has long been a tough place for politicians to talk to voters – it’s where Mitt Romney famously told a protester that corporations are people as he was heckled by the crowd – but it’s probably an even tougher place for a young congressman to speak on his first day solo as a vice presidential candidate.
But that was the situation that Paul D. Ryan walked into Monday, as the newly minted candidate got his first taste of the ins and outs of participating in a national presidential campaign. And no, he didn’t seem to get a taste of anything else at the state fair: Ryan, a health fanatic, didn’t even sample the fried butter.
It was less than a minute into Ryan’s speech that the shouts started. “Are you going to cut Medicare?” someone yelled, nearly drowning out Ryan’s opening remarks about President Obama. A few minutes later, two protesters dressed in flowing clothing made it up on stage before being escorted off by security. A few men with loud voices shouted throughout the speech, “Stop the war on the common good” and “Stop the war on the middle class.”
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Ryan, dressed in a red-and-white checkered shirt, jeans and cowboy boots, tried to address the protesters, saying: “It’s funny because Iowans and Wisconsinites, we like to be respectful of one another, peaceful with one other,” he said. “These ladies must not be from Iowa or Wisconsin.”
He soon decided that was futile, soldiering on through his stump speech, which was alternatively met with cheers from bystanders waving Romney signs (Romney-Ryan signs appeared not to have made it to Iowa yet) and voices attempting to shout Ryan down.
“One thing we’ve got to get straight is we’re not growing this economy like we need to,” Ryan said, to cheers.
“Another thing - - we have people who are hurting in this country,” he said, drowned out by jeers.
Ryan’s speech detailed Romney’s five-point plan to improve the economy, which includes tapping into energy resources, reducing the deficit and training workers. He lauded Romney’s record of creating jobs and pledged to cut taxes on small businesses.
“We need to get rid of the loopholes, get rid of the deductions, and lower everybody’s tax rates so our businesses can survive,” he said.
Ryan also touched on a subject the Romney campaign has hit hard in the past few days – welfare reform, criticizing President Obama’s plan to alter how states administer funds for Transitional Aid to Needy Families, or TANF.
“We want to give people hands up, not handouts,” he said, to cheers.
Ryan, who is a fifth-generation Wisconsinite, also tried to play up his roots in this neighboring state, which has just six electoral votes but has taken on an exaggerated importance in the general election because the race is expected to be close. Voter registration statistics show Republicans have a slight edge over Democrats in active voters, 33% to 32%, but those with no party affiliation make up the biggest chunk of voters overall, at 35%.
He appeared at the fair with Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican who has criticized the Romney campaign in recent weeks for its pledge to end a tax credit for wind power in the state, and Iowa Rep. Steve King.
“I feel such kindred spirits here,” he said. “We are united as upper Midwesterners … at the end of the day, we are Americans.”
The addition of Ryan to the ticket has energized voters such as Bill Thomas, 64, of Indianola.
“He’s been the intellectual leader of the Republican Party for years,” he said. “He talks sense regarding the deficit and how much we’re spending.”
But others disagreed, including registered Republican John Sheller, 46. Sheller, who drives a pedicab at the state fair, said he wasn’t planning to vote for Romney in this election. The addition of Ryan to the ticket isn’t going to change that, he said.
“Romney is a combination of George Bush and Dick Cheney. It's absurd,” he said. “Another elitist.”
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