Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop at LeClaire Manufacturing in… (Evan Vucci, Associated…)
RALEIGH, N.C. — Rep. Paul D. Ryan shrugged off differences with Mitt Romney on abortion policy Wednesday, saying Romney's views, while more moderate than his, were "a good step in the right direction."
Ryan, the presumptive Republican vice presidential candidate under Romney, has taken a sharply conservative view on abortion in the past, saying he opposes it in all circumstances except to save the life of the mother — a position that would outlaw abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Romney accepts all three exceptions.
Ryan briefly answered questions on the topic during an impromptu news conference on his campaign plane.
Asked about an abortion bill he cosponsored along with Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), Ryan said he was among 251 supporters of the bill. "It was bipartisan.... I think we had 251 votes, 16 Democrats. I'm proud of my pro-life record."
The bill in question was HR 3, known as the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, which passed the House in 2011 by a vote of 251 to 175. It died in the Senate. The bill, which would have made permanent an existing ban on federal funding of abortion, initially provided an exception for cases of "forcible rape." That language was removed after an outcry by women's groups over the word "forcible," which suggested that some rapes were not forced.
In response to a question about his differences with Romney on exceptions to a ban on abortion, Ryan said: "Look, I'm proud of my record.... Mitt Romney is going to be the president; the president sets policy. His policy is exceptions for rape, incest, life of the mother. I'm comfortable with it because it's a good step in the right direction. I'll leave it at that."
(Akin created a furor this week by saying women were biologically equipped to avoid pregnancy after being raped, then apologized and admitted he was wrong. He rejected calls from Romney and other top Republicans to drop out of the Missouri Senate race as a matter of "principle," telling NBC's"Today" show Wednesday that the choice of a candidate should be made by voters, not "party bosses.")
Romney, campaigning in the Mississippi River town of Bettendorf, Iowa, sought to keep the focus on the economy, hewing tightly to a small-government-is-good message in remarks to about 1,000 supporters inside an aluminum casting manufacturing warehouse.
"We've now had four years in a row with a president that's built trillion-dollar deficits," Romney told the crowd, with industrial fans buzzing in the background. "It's bad economics, it's the wrong course for America, and I believe it's immoral for us to pass on our burdens to the next generation."
Romney spoke at family-owned LeClaire Manufacturing. Behind him onstage was a group of nonunion LeClaire workers wearing blue T-shirts that said, "Government didn't build my business, I did" — a swipe at a recent Obama remark on public infrastructure underpinning successful businesses.
Romney's quick afternoon stop in Iowa came the day after he made a fundraising trip to Texas that yielded between $6 million and $7 million in donations, mainly from the energy industry, according to his campaign.
Obama, campaigning at a school in North Las Vegas, blasted Romney for portraying educators as "nameless bureaucrats."
Among the teachers he did identify by name was his own: Mabel Hefty, who he said took him "under her wing" during a year of transition after he returned to Hawaii after years living overseas.
"She made me feel like I had something to say, and that I had some talent.... She made sure that during this transition year I was able to steady myself and start focusing on my work," he said of his fifth-grade teacher. "I'm only standing here as president because I had a bunch of great teachers like Miss Hefty."
The president told a boisterous crowd of nearly 3,000 in a high school gymnasium that even as the private sector continued to add jobs, there were 300,000 fewer teachers and school workers now than in 2009, largely a consequence of state and local budget cuts.
Obama claimed Romney "says we've got enough teachers."
"The way he talks about them, it seems as if he thinks these are a bunch of nameless government bureaucrats that we need to cut back on.... And his economic plan certainly would do that," he said.
Obama's rally, among the loudest of recent stops, was not without incident. At one point a protester, behaving aggressively, attempted to shout down the president, and was quickly removed by security.
"That man probably needed a good teacher," the president observed.
Landsberg reported from Raleigh, Finnegan from Bettendorf, Iowa, and Memoli from North Las Vegas.