Ryan would change how seniors get care. Those turning 65 after 2023 would get federal help to buy coverage from private plans or traditional Medicare.
"Medicare is a promise, and we will honor it. A Romney-Ryan administration will protect and strengthen Medicare, for my mom's generation, for my generation, and for my kids and yours," Ryan said. Democrats contend that under Ryan's proposal seniors would face increase health care costs they'll have trouble affording.
Ryan got his most rousing applause when he turned to the younger generation that once embraced Obama so fervently.
"College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life," Ryan said.
He recalled the 2009 economic stimulus. "It was President Obama's first and best shot at fixing the economy, at a time when he got everything he wanted under one-party rule. It cost $831 billion - the largest one-time expenditure ever by our federal government," Ryan said. "It went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs and make-believe markets. The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal." Republicans often cite the aid to Solyndra, a now-defunct solar panel firm, as a prime example of irresponsible government spending.
Ryan's speech was the coda to a night devoted to the theme of "We Can Change It." Before Ryan, though, the evening's premier events recalled the party's past.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, a key adviser on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the party's 2008 presidential nominee, were featured speakers.
Rice offered tough criticisms of the Obama administration, insisting peace through strength is vital. Her tone was gentle, but her urgings had bite.
"I know there is a weariness," she said, but added, "We do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead and you cannot lead from behind."
Rice turned to domestic issues, recalling her upbringing in the Jim Crow South and how she grew up to be secretary of state - a reminder that drew a huge ovation from the crowd.
"Yes, America has a way of making the impossible seem inevitable in retrospect," she said, but "it took leadership" to make change, leadership of the sort Romney and Ryan can bring.
McCain was the star of this show four years ago. "I had hopes once of addressing you under different circumstances," he said with a grin. McCain was one of the few speakers to discuss national security, criticizing the Obama administration's plan for ending American military involvement in Afghanistan.
Delegates also watched a video recalling the presidencies of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Both are skipping the convention. The elder Bush is in failing health. The younger Bush's presidency remains a subject Republicans would rather not discuss. Delegates rarely invoked the younger Bush's name on the convention floor. One reason: a debt clocks loom over the convention hall showing the growing national debt, some of which was accumulated on Bush's watch.
Some delegates loyal to Rep. Ron Paul of Texas remained unenthusiastic about the Romney-Ryan ticket. Their candidate did not address the convention but was instead featured in a video. His son Rand, a Kentucky senator, addressed the delegates Wednesday.
Rand Paul mentioned Romney only once, after a lively speech. "The great and abiding lesson of American history, particularly the Cold War, is that the engine of capitalism - the individual - is mightier than any collective," he said.
Obama was in Charlottesville, Va., on Wednesday, campaigning for a final time before Romney goes before a national audience at the Republican convention Thursday.
He told a mostly college-age crowd not to let the negativity of the campaigns turn them off.
"There are some folks getting sick of politics, sometimes campaigns seem meaner and smaller," he said, adding that Republicans will tell them, "You were naive last time when you had all that hope and change stuff."
"What they're hoping, even if you don't vote for them ... they do hope you get so discouraged that you just stay home," he said. "That's what they're banking on."
(Lesley Clark of the Washington Bureau contributed from Charlottesville, Va.)
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