Paul Ryan greets supporters at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio. (Justin Merriman / Tribune-Review )
WARREN, Ohio — Joining a presidential ticket brings novelties like private jets and motorcades. Less welcome, it also brings the undivided attention of the media, which are quick to ask about it when a candidate deviates from long-held political positions.
Rep. Paul D. Ryanof Wisconsin has been hammered with such questions in recent days — about why he now opposes cuts to Medicare he once proposed, and why he voted against the stimulus bill when he requested funds for his district.
The probing did not let up Thursday, even during a quick visit the new Republican vice presidential candidate made to a hot dog stand here. Ryan invited a reporter celebrating a birthday to join him for a bite, and was soon asked about his Medicare position.
"You're criticizing President Obama right now for taking money from Medicare to pay for Obamacare. But your budget plan includes those cuts. What's your response to that?" asked the reporter, Chris Moody of Yahoo News.
Leaning over a hot dog covered in sauerkraut, Ryan responded: "First of all, those are in the baseline — he put those cuts in. Second of all, we voted to repeal Obamacare repeatedly, including those cuts. I voted that way before the budget; I voted that way after the budget. So when you repeal all of Obamacare what you end up doing is that repeals that as well."
A few hours earlier, at a rally at Walsh University in North Canton, Ohio, Ryan rallied the crowd by criticizing the administration's policies toward China.
Ryan voted for the U.S.-China Relations Act of 2000 to normalize trade relations with China. Aides said his support for the bill was consistent with his current position.
"President Obama promised he'd stop these practices; he said he'd go to the mat with China. Instead, they're treating him like a doormat," Ryan said in a packed gymnasium.
The Chinese "steal our intellectual property; they block access to their markets; they manipulate their currency," he said, as the crowd cheered. "Free trade is a powerful tool for peace and prosperity, but our trading partners need to play by the rules."
Walsh University is located in Stark County, which has chosen the winning president every election year but one since 1980. The region, once a manufacturing hub, is down to 27,400 manufacturing jobs from 37,800 in 2002. Messages about unfair trade strike home with many voters, who blame foreign countries for luring away factories and manufacturing jobs.
But since its manufacturing decline began, the region has benefited significantly from government tax credits and incentives, which Ryan has repeatedly said he opposes. Hoover Co. had made vacuum cleaners here since 1908, but when it closed a plant in 2007, Suarez Corp. Industries moved in.
The company, which makes space heaters, struck a deal with the city to reduce the amount of income tax it paid for the first two years. It formerly made its heaters in China, but returned its operations to the U.S. after some production delays.
Other nearby towns have gotten big help from the government to jump-start manufacturing. General Motors, which received money from the auto bailout, also got $82 million in tax credits from the state of Ohio to add 1,400 jobs at a plant in Lordstown, where it recently began making the Chevrolet Cruze. Goodyear in Akron and a General Motors plant in Toledo have also received significant incentives from the state, according to the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber.
Ryan was also asked how he could oppose the stimulus bill if he had asked for money for his district, as some news outlets reported.
"I never asked for stimulus," he told Cincinnati's WCPO-TV. "I don't recall — and I haven't seen this report so I really can't comment on it. I opposed the stimulus because it doesn't work — it didn't work. It brought us deeper into debt. It was about $1.1 trillion when you add the borrowing cost; it put us deeper in debt and further out of work."
The Obama campaign has seized on Ryan's remarks this week.
"Today, Paul Ryan once again demonstrated that he's been co-opted by Mitt Romney after flip-flopping on his own record," said Obama spokesman Danny Kanner. "Just a few days after being picked as Romney's vice presidential candidate because of his ideas, it's unfortunate and troubling that he so quickly abandons them."