Ryan Readies Speech in Bid to Rally Base, Soothe Undecideds

Paul Ryan was putting the finishing touches on a prime-time speech aimed at rallying the Republican base and drawing in swing voters when he takes center stage tonight at the party’s national convention in Tampa.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who selected Ryan as his running mate, courted veterans today in Indianapolis at the annual conference of the American Legion. He told the gathering that President Barack Obama’s “greatest failure” is not delivering on jobs for those returning from service. He also said he would make “a personal priority” to overhaul the Veterans Administration to make it more efficient

Ryan, 42, faces the task of not alienating independent voters who may be alarmed by his government-shrinking, budget-cutting ideas and proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program.

“He has to prove to the American people that he’s not the extremist that the liberal mainstream media is trying to paint him to be,” said Jim Pinkerton, a Republican strategist and a co-chairman of RATE Coalition, an organization working to overhaul the tax code.

Ryan, who arrived in Tampa last night, was spending much of today in his hotel room near the convention center preparing his address. Michael Steel, a spokesman, said the Wisconsin congressman was “spending the day with his family, and getting ready for his speech tonight.”

Romney appeared on the convention podium last night after his wife, Ann, lauded him in a speech as a man who will “lift up America.”

Tuition Plan

In Indianapolis, Romney promised to offer in-state tuition at any school across the country for veterans, ease the credentialing process for them to work as mechanics and in other fields, and improve their health care. He vowed to halt spending reductions for defense programs that are part of $1.2 trillion in automatic, across-the-board cuts over a decade due to start in January under a debt deal reached last year.

“I will make reductions in other areas and install pro-growth policies to make sure that our country remains safe and secure,” he said.

The speech was an effort to link national security and veteran affairs with the core economic themes of Romney’s campaign.

Romney returned to Tampa after his remarks to spend the evening in his hotel suite with his family watching convention speeches. Aides said his plans could change and he may decide to make an appearance on the convention floor.

Speech Preparation

Romney has been preparing his Republican convention speech for months by reading past addresses, talking to advisers and jotting down possible themes as he’s campaigned across the country.

Arizona Senator John McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, and Condoleezza Rice, former secretary of state for President George W. Bush, are among the headline speakers preceding Ryan tonight, turning the focus of the gathering to foreign policy.

In an interview today with Fox News Channel, Rice said she planned to underscore the “need for America to speak with a voice that the world can hear.”

Ryan, 42, had no public events scheduled for the day, giving him time to make any final changes to his speech and relax before one of the biggest nights of his career.

“He’s preparing and he’ll probably look at his speech a couple more times,” said Republican Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House majority whip. “He’ll spend some time with his family, walk out and knock it out of the park,” he said.

Exercise Program

“I imagine he did P90 this morning,” said McCarthy, referring to the workout routine that he and Ryan often do together. “He calls me from the road and he’s keeping up with it.”

Democrats were busy highlighting Ryan’s calls for deep cuts to programs such as Medicare.

Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee that Ryan heads, said the Republican attacks on the Medicare cuts in Obama’s 2010 health-care law are “a calculated, cynical effort to confuse seniors” and “hide from seniors just how bad the Romney-Ryan plan would be.”

‘Muddy the Waters’

Joining Van Hollen at a Tampa news conference today, Stephanie Cutter, a deputy manager of Obama’s re-election campaign, said Republicans are “trying to muddy the waters” on Medicare because “they know how vulnerable they are on their plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program.”

House Republicans twice have approved legislation sponsored by Ryan to convert Medicare to a voucher program. The plan would rely on competition among private insurers to hold down health-care costs. The measure would cut government spending by more than $5 trillion, reduce taxes for high earners and balance the budget in 2040.

Ryan’s original plan did away with the traditional Medicare program entirely; he later agreed to continue a public option, albeit with limits on how much the government would spend. The current Medicare system would remain for everyone now participating, and everyone at least 55 years old now would receive the traditional fee-for-service program with no caps on expenditures when they turn 65.

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