MIAMI - On the Florida leg of his swing-state bus tour, Mitt Romney declared at a rally here Monday evening that the nation faces a choice between becoming a European-style social-welfare state or firing President Obama to be "more like America."
A mostly Cuban American crowd of about 1,000 here at El Palacio de los Jugos cheered the fiery rhetoric, and Romney was equally well-received earlier in the day in St. Augustine, Fla., as he pounded Obama's handling of the economy.
But the GOP presidential candidate barely mentioned Medicare, the issue that has become a focus of the presidential race since he named as his running mate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman, who has proposed a partial privatization of the health-insurance program for seniors. The issue could bedevil the Republican ticket in two states that may hold the key to an Electoral College victory and have some of the highest percentages of voters who rely on Medicare and Social Security: Florida and Pennsylvania.
During a tarmac news conference with national reporters at the Miami airport, Romney said there may be differences between his own budget plan and Ryan's - but he would not name them. Instead, he said that the two men "are on the same page."
"I can't tell you the politics of this, but I can tell you the truth: We can't continue with Medicare the way it is," Romney said when asked whether he believed older voters were more open to a discussion of changes in the social safety net than had been the case in past elections. The Medicare program is projected to go bust by 2030 if benefits are not reduced or revenue increased.
Romney pivoted to attack Obama on the issue, noting that the president has not proposed any solution to the long-term financial stability of federal entitlements and is cutting Medicare payments to doctors by $700 billion to help finance his own "Obamacare" health-insurance overhaul.
Americans will support changes such as those envisioned in Ryan's plan "if they understand the truth," Romney said. Earlier in the day, he told a rally on the lawn of Flagler College in St. Augustine: "We want to make sure that we preserve and protect Medicare."
The Ryan plan would not make any changes for those currently receiving Medicare benefits or who are 55 or older. For others, it would replace the guaranteed federal health benefit with a voucher that seniors could use to shop for private health insurance. Because the "premium support" would not grow, critics say, seniors would not be able to keep up with inflation in health costs.
Ryan was campaigning Monday in Iowa after two days of stumping with Romney in Virginia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. His selection Saturday energized the GOP campaign, and the two men drew huge crowds to their joint appearances in those states.
Whether the newly formed ticket goes over well with voters generally remains to be seen. The crowds that Romney drew Monday in solo appearances here were not as large as those that greeted him and Ryan over the weekend. And the ticket got a lukewarm reception in a nationwide USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted Sunday.
In that survey of 488 registered voters, with a margin of error plus or minus 6 percentage points, 39 percent called Romney's selection of Ryan "excellent" or "pretty good," to 45 percent who termed it "only fair" or "poor." Sixteen percent had no opinion. Pollsters said it was the least enthusiastic initial reception for the choice of a running mate since 1988, when then-Vice President George H.W. Bush picked Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle.
But the same poll found high enthusiasm for the ticket among Republican voters, and everywhere Romney and Ryan have appeared together, supporters have gone wild for such stump staples as Obama-bashing and celebrating the success of the U.S. Olympic athletes.
Speaking at Flagler College, not far from Cape Canaveral and the Space Coast, Romney said Obama had promised voters the moon, "but never got off the launchpad."
The former Massachusetts governor also returned to a favorite theme - America as an extraordinary nation with extraordinary character. He cited as fresh evidence the haul of medals U.S. athletes took home from the Summer Games that ended Sunday night in London.
"This is still the greatest nation on earth," Romney said. "I know there are people around the world who are always critical of America, have something negative to say, say our greatest days are in the past. Baloney! We just won more Olympic medals than any other nation on Earth. We also just landed on Mars and took a good look at what's going on there."
Continuing the space theme, Romney thumped his chest about the Apollo program and took a dig at China in the process.
"I know that China is planning on going to the moon, and I hope they have a good experience doing that," Romney said. "I hope they stop in and take a look at our flag that was put there 43 years ago!"
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