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Ryan Tells GOP Delegates U.S. Needs A Turnaround


But now to Tampa, where this evening Mitt Romney will formally accept his party's nomination for president.

Last night, though, the stage belonged to vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan. In a campaign, it often falls to the running mate to be the attack dog and Ryan sounded up for the job. It was also a chance for the rising GOP star to defend his own ideas.

Here's NPR's national correspondent Mara Liasson.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Romney's choice of Paul Ryan generated a big boost of excitement for the ticket among Republicans - and last night Ryan lived up to the expectations. He did all the things a vice presidential nominee is supposed to do - starting with a vigorous defense of Romney himself, praising him for his ability, character and plain decency.


PAUL RYAN: His whole life prepared him for this moment - to meet serious challenges in a serious way, without excuses and idle words. After four years of getting the run-around, America needs a turnaround, and the man for the job is Governor Mitt Romney.

LIASSON: Ryan was also introducing himself to a national audience for the first time, along with his family - wife Janna, his three kids, and his mom, Betty.


RYAN: I live on the same block where I grew up. We belong to the same parish where I was baptized. Janesville is that kind of place.

LIASSON: Congressman Ryan does go home to Janesville, Wisconsin on the weekends, but he's spent more than half his entire life working in Washington - a career politician by any definition.

Last night he delivered a sweeping attack on President Obama by starting with a note of sympathy. The president did come into office during an economic crisis, Ryan said, pointing out that his own home state voted for Mr. Obama in 2008.


RYAN: When he talked about change, many people liked the sound of it, especially in Janesville, where we were about to lose a major factory. A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: I believe that if our government is there to support you, this plant will be here for another hundred years. That's what he said in 2008.Well, as it turned out, that plant didn't last another year.

LIASSON: Ryan left the impression that this was President Obama's fault. In fact, the plant closed down in 2008, before Mr. Obama took office.

Ryan also accused the president of racking up $5 trillion of new debt and ignoring the country's fiscal crisis.


RYAN: He created a new bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way, and then did exactly nothing.

LIASSON: What Ryan didn't say was that he was a member of that debt commission and voted against the recommendations in that urgent report.

Ryan also repeated the charge that the president took $716 billion from Medicare and used it to fund Obamacare. We're going to stop that, Ryan said, neglecting to point out that his own budget takes the same $716 billion from Medicare.


RYAN: In Congress, when they take out the heavy books and the wall charts about Medicare, my thoughts go back to a house on Garfield Street in Janesville. My wonderful grandma, Janet, had Alzheimer's and she moved in with Mom and me. Though she felt lost at times, we did all the little things that made her feel loved. We had help from Medicare, and it was there, just like it's there for my mom today. 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.

LIASSON: Ryan didn't mention his own Medicare proposal, which would turn the program from a guaranteed fee for service health plan, into a means-tested voucher for future seniors to buy private insurance.

Ryan did describe the broad outlines of his budget, which shrinks the size of government by curbing the cost of entitlements and other federal programs. And he laid out an ideological critique of the president's policies.


RYAN: None of us should have to settle for the best this administration offers - a dull, adventureless journey from one entitlement to the next, a government-planned life, a country where everything is free but us.

LIASSON: This is the exact opposite of everything I learned growing up in Wisconsin, Ryan said - sounding like one of the Austrian economists he so admires.

RYAN: When I was waiting tables, washing dishes or mowing lawns for money, I never thought of myself as stuck in some station in life. I was on my own path, my own journey, an American journey, where I could think for myself, decide for myself, define happiness for myself. That's what we do in this country. That's the American dream. That's freedom and I'll take it any day over the supervision and sanctimony of the central planners.

LIASSON: While Ryan is well-known in Washington as the intellectual leader of a new generation of Republicans, he's not well-known around the country. And he's young - at 42, the same age as Romney's oldest son.


RYAN: We're a full generation apart, Governor Romney and I, and in some ways we're different. There are the songs on his iPod, which I've heard on the campaign bus and I've heard it on many hotel elevators.

LIASSON: In addition to Ryan, the delegates heard from other GOP stars, like New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez, the most prominent elected Republican Latina. And they heard from the party's most prominent African-American woman, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She delivered a strong speech on foreign policy that the delegates loved, but she also challenged them by defending George W. Bush's plan to provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a position at odds with the views of this convention and the current ticket.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE: We need immigration laws that protect our borders, meet our economic needs, and yet show that we are a compassionate nation of immigrants.

LIASSON: Mike Huckabee, the former governor, Baptist preacher and current Fox News talk show host, who ran against Romney in 2008, offered an important endorsement aimed at conservative evangelicals who consider Romney's Mormon religion to be a cult. Huckabee said I care far less where Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country.


MIKE HUCKABEE: People wonder whether guys like me, an evangelical, would only support a fellow evangelical. Well, my friends, I want to tell you something. Of the four people on the two tickets, the only self-professed evangelical is Barack Obama, and he supports changing the definition of marriage, believes that human life is disposable and expendable at any time in the womb, even beyond the womb, and he tells people of faith that they have to bow their knees to the god of government and violate their faith and conscience in order to comply with what he calls health care.

LIASSON: But the night belonged to Paul Ryan, who told the crowd this election would be more than a referendum on President Obama.


RYAN: You are entitled to the clearest possible choice, because the time for choosing is drawing near. So here is our pledge: We will not duck the tough issues, we will lead. We will not spend the next four years blaming others. We will take responsibility. We will not try to replace our founding principles. We will reapply our founding principles.

LIASSON: All the convention lacks now is the climactic speech by the man at the top of the ticket, and tonight Mitt Romney takes the stage in Tampa to accept the nomination of his party and launch his fall campaign. Mara Liasson, NPR News, Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Her reports can be heard regularly on NPR's award-winning newsmagazine programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Liasson provides extensive coverage of politics and policy from Washington, DC — focusing on the White House and Congress — and also reports on political trends beyond the Beltway.