The race for president returned Wednesday to the Roanoke Valley, where
Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan appeared at Northwest True
Value Hardware to make the case that he and ticket mate Mitt Romney can rev up
a moribund economy with business-friendly policies.
Speaking to a crowd of 1,350 supporters at the Brambleton Avenue store in Roanoke County, Ryan cast the election as a choice between an "opportunity society" -- as represented by the Republican ticket -- or a "welfare state and debt crisis" as represented by incumbent President Barack Obama.
"This is President Obama's imaginary recovery," Ryan said. "It's not here. We have a mountain of uncertainty that is plaguing small businesses. And we have a person, in Mitt Romney, who knows through experience the challenges that businesses face, how jobs creation works -- that the engine of opportunity, the nucleus of our economy is not the government, but the success of small businesses, the entrepreneurs, the people of this country. That's what makes the American dream spread and grow for everybody."
Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin, said the country has suffered from 42 straight months with an unemployment rate higher than 8 percent, with 23 million people out of work.
But Ryan argued that he and Romney can get the country back on track with a foundation of the "principles that built this country: liberty, freedom, free enterprise, self-determination, government by consent of the governed, not by consent of some bureaucrat in Washington."
"Of all the times in our history when leadership is so necessary, leadership that is in keeping with our country's founding, our country's principles, it is now," Ryan said. "That's why we need to elect someone who is that kind of bold, principled leader. That's what Mitt Romney is."
Ryan laid out a number of proposals -- a "Romney-Ryan plan" -- he said would help turn around the economy and create 12 million jobs in four years: Using more of America's energy resources, including coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear sources; re-educating workers with new skills to find different jobs in the new economy; boosting the manufacturing sector by renegotiating fair trade deals with other countries; lowering tax rates; and restructuring the country's budget to cut deficits and reduce the national debt.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan authored a budget plan aimed at reducing debt largely by restructuring Medicare and other entitlement programs.
"This is a debate that we want," Ryan said. "This is a debate that we're going to win."
Obama and Democrats have attacked that plan, largely because it calls for creating an alternative to the Medicare program that would give future retirees a fixed amount of money to purchase private health coverage. Ryan, however, fired back, citing $716 billion in planned cuts to Medicare that are scheduled to occur under the federal health care overhaul. Obama has said the savings would be used for other health care costs, including preventive care for senior citizens.
Ryan was introduced on stage by Chris McMurray, the Radford businessman who owns Crumb & Get It Cookie Co. and rose to national attention last week when he declined a request by Vice President Joe Biden's advance team to stage a media appearance in his bakery.
"My wife Kelly and I are here representing thousands of small business owners in America -- folks who know what it means to take risks, folks who know how hard it is to make payroll, folks who work into the wee hours of the night, miss their kids' soccer games," McMurray said. "And most of all, Kelly and I represent thousands of small business owners who did build their business!"
Ryan looked impressed, joking, "He just gave my speech. I'm voting for that guy."
Ryan and McMurray delivered their speeches in front of a large American flag flanked by Romney campaign signs that read, "We Did Build It!"
The signs -- which have become a cornerstone of the Romney campaign -- were a reference to a remark Obama made during a campaign speech in Roanoke last month: "If you've got a business, you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen."
Obama and at least three nonpartisan campaign fact-checking organizations -- PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and the Washington Post's Fact Checker -- say the "that" in the line was a reference to infrastructure. But Republicans have seized on the line as evidence that Obama believes business success comes from government assistance, not from hard work and individual initiative.
That was the interpretation that Ryan gave when he argued that Obama "revealed himself just here in Roanoke not too long ago."
McMurray wasn't the only businessman at the event.
Rob Lindstrom of Alcova Mortgage Alleghany Highlands, which employs 124 people in Covington, said he attended the event hoping to hear Ryan talk about small businesses and health care. Lindstrom said he's had to hire two new people just to comply with the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which added significant new regulations to the financial services industry.
Roanoke businessman Robert Fralin said, "I think the sentiment's turning to smaller government. I think it's what the founders intended when they established the country."
Roanoke City Councilmen Bill Bestpitch and Sherman Lea, both Democrats, were among about 20 people who stood outside the event with signs as part of a MoveOn.org protest. Bestpitch said that Ryan's budget plan would eventually raise the cost of health care for senior citizens, and Lea argued that Ryan is "wrong for women" -- a phrase echoed on protesters' signs -- because of his past support for anti-abortion measures, including some with no exceptions for cases of rape-related pregnancies.
Ryan's visit is only the latest indication that Virginia has become one of the hottest presidential battlegrounds in the country.
Besides Biden's swing through Southside Virginia and the New River Valley last week, Obama held an event in Roanoke last month and Romney held an event in Salem in late June. In addition, Obama is slated to appear in Charlottesville next Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.
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