Hundreds cheer Ryan in The Villages


Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and running mate for Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, talks about what he Romney would do if they were elected in November during a Victory Rally at Town Square, Lake Sumter Landing, in The Villages, Florida, Saturday morning, August 18, 2012. Hundreds of people attended the event that also featured country music artist Lee Greenwood.

Doug Engle/ Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 7:50 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 18, 2012 at 7:50 p.m.

THE VILLAGES — Waving red, white and blue Romney-Ryan 2012 campaign signs, hundreds of supporters in The Villages came out in droves Saturday to catch a glimpse of Paul Ryan.

The vice presidential candidate made his first Florida appearance at a brief pit stop in the sprawling retirement community a week after Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney announced him as his running mate.

Heralded by the tunes of country music singer Lee Greenwood, Ryan jumped onto the stage and waved to his supporters. His first order of business: Introduce his mother, Betty, to the crowd.

“Say hi to my mom, Betty,” Ryan said. His mother, a winter resident of Florida and a retiree, lives in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea in South Florida.

For the rest of his 20-minute appearance, Ryan criticized President Barack Obama and his administration for keeping the country in economic doldrums and for failing to get the unemployment rate below 8 percent.

“It's very clear that President Obama inherited a difficult situation. The problem is, he made matters worse,” Ryan said. “This is why the president has run out of ideas. This is why the president isn't running on hope and change anymore; he's running on anger and frustration.”

One of Ryan's biggest talking points Saturday morning to the crowd of mostly retirees was Medicare. He claimed that the Obama administration took $716 billion from the Medicare program and used that money to fund his health care law, called Obamacare by some.

Because of that, Ryan said that more than 4 million seniors were at risk of losing their Medicare coverage under the health care law. “We will end the raid of Medicare, we will restore the promise of this program,” Ryan said.

Medicare, he said, needs to undergo a revamp to protect seniors' coverage, but also to make it available for future generations.

Democrats have widely criticized Ryan's Medicare plan, which they say would turn Medicare into a voucher-based system and ultimately force seniors to pay more out of pocket for health care. As chairman of the House Budget Committee since 2011, Ryan's plan was part of the House GOP 2013 budget.

During his speech Saturday, Ryan stressed the need for a boost in job creation, and for more homegrown production of U.S. energy and products to jump-start the economy.

Ryan also preached his mantra of fiscal conservatism by urging cuts to government spending to reduce the deficit.

“We also have to stop spending money we just don't have. We have to cut spending, get this deficit under control so that we leave our children and our grandchildren a debt-free nation,” he said.

Ryan's speech could help to galvanize the Republican vote in Florida — a much-sought-after battleground state in the general election in November. “He's a home run,” said Scott Sullivan, an Ocala resident who made the early morning trip to The Villages to see Ryan in person.

Sullivan said he liked Ryan's ideas for the country, specifically his plans for job creation.

The Silver Springs Shores resident said he used to work for a large mortgage company, but has now been out of work for three years and still can't find a job. He said he has faith in the Romney-Ryan campaign because of their solid experience in business and a proven track record of job creation.

“The president right now has no track record of creating jobs,” he said.

Not everyone at the rally was convinced.

Fernando and Sherry Gutierrez, of Maryland, came to the rally to hear what Ryan had to say, but said they were Democrats. The couple — a government worker and an ex-Marine — own a home in The Villages but hail from Maryland.

They said they liked a lot of the things Ryan had to say about changing Medicare, but weren't swayed by his speech to cast a vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket in November.

“I'm still convinced that it's not the way to go,” Fernando Gutierrez said.

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