Firing up a Las Vegas rally of supporters, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan on Tuesday vowed to put the country back on a healthy economic track and accused President Barack Obama of being more worried about the next election than the next generation.
Ryan, making his Nevada campaign debut, said GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has a plan to boost jobs, reform taxes, reduce the debt and protect Americans' futures.
"The president has put us on the wrong path, and we're going to fix this thing to put America back on track," said Ryan, speaking to about 2,000 people at Palo Verde High School in Summerlin. "We are going to offer optimism and opportunity."
In contrast, Ryan said, Obama is offering "nothing more than division and demagoguery."
The president and his administration "are more worried about their next election than they are about the next generation. We have a vision for the future," Ryan said to loud cheers.
"We will not duck the tough issues. We will lead."
Ryan wowed the crowd, bringing fresh energy to the GOP presidential campaign three days after Romney introduced the conservative congressman from Wisconsin as his running mate.
Supporters rose and screamed when Ryan, in shirt sleeves, took the stage inside a gymnasium where the high school band played, banging drums to the crowd's chants.
Men, women and children banged their feet on the bleachers in approval when he reminded the crowd that Obama recently said of entrepreneurs, "You didn't build that" without government help.
"We have a man who knows if you have a small business, you did build that business," Ryan said of Romney, prompting cheers and foot stomping that shook the gym to its rafters.
Ryan also talked up Romney's experience, saying he saved the Salt Lake City Olympics and as governor of Massachusetts reduced unemployment and didn't raise taxes. Romney also ran Bain Capital, a turnaround firm, although Ryan did not mention that.
Under Obama, one in six people are living in poverty, Ryan said. He noted Nevada has the highest unemployment rate at 11.6 percent - a number he said he couldn't believe when he first heard it and had to ask for the figure to be repeated three times. He promised better days.
"The recovery begins November 6," Ryan shouted, referring to Election Day.
After the rally, Ryan was meeting privately with Republican financial backers at The Venetian, including with Sands Corp. chief, Sheldon Adelson. A generous GOP giver, Adelson has donated $10 million to a political action committee supporting Romney's campaign.
From 30 to 40 people were expected to be briefed by Ryan, who is popular among donors who say they want more freedom for private enterprise and oppose too much government regulation. The campaign said the event was closed because it was small and was not an official fundraiser.
Outside The Venetian, several hundred people led by AFL-CIO union members and progressive groups protested the Ryan meeting with Adelson and other big GOP donors. "Ryan go home!" some chanted. Others carried signs, including one that read: "Paul Ryan Hustling For The 1%"
Hours before the Ryan rally, U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley accused Romney's running mate of working to get rid of Medicare and to protect millionaires instead of the middle class.
"I stand with the families and the middle-income people of the state of Nevada," Berkley said in a news conference outside the school. "Paul Ryan's priorities are not mine because they're not the priorities of the people I represent."
Berkley, D-Nev., is running against U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who has twice voted for Ryan's GOP budget plan, which would transform Medicare for future retirees under the age of 55 into a private insurance reimbursement system. The goal is to give retirees more options and to keep Medicare from going broke by 2024, the GOP argues.
Ryan did not mention his Medicare plan during his 22-minute speech in Las Vegas. Instead, he spoke in generalities about the direction of the country. And he said he and Romney would work to improve the economy and ease Nevada's home foreclosure crisis, though he offered no details.
Both Romney and Ryan have suggested a housing recovery won't happen until the market "hits bottom," a stance the Obama campaign and Democrats have painted as heartless. Ryan said, however, that the current government programs weren't working to solve the housing crisis.
"You deserve better than that," Ryan said.
Since Romney announced Ryan as his running mate on Saturday, Democrats and Obama have focused on Ryan's Medicare proposals and the GOP ticket's opposition to raising taxes on the rich as the centerpiece battle in the 2012 elections. Berkley already had targeted Heller's Medicare votes and now has more political fuel to throw on the fire.
The Romney campaign responded Tuesday by putting out a new TV ad in Nevada and other battleground states that notes Obama reduced Medicare spending by more than $700 billion to pay for his health care insurance program, which GOP critics despise. The Medicare savings over 10 years comes largely from reducing payments to doctors. Ryan's budget has a similar Medicare savings plan, although Romney has opposed such reductions himself.
More than three dozen Heller supporters surrounded Berkley with Heller signs during her news conference, which was moved at the last minute to try to avoid the GOP protesters.
The Heller backers stood in polite silence throughout most of Berkley's news conference until one woman shouted, "She's got a lot of chutzpah!" for crashing the Ryan event.
Arnold and Barbara Teixeira were among supporters of Romney, Ryan and Heller who showed up to counter Berkley's criticism and to lay eyes on the new GOP vice presidential pick.
"I love him! I love him!" Barbara Teixeira said of Ryan. "He's actually got a budget, which is more than you can say for the Democrats. I think he's going to help Romney win."
Teixeira, 71, said she is on Medicare, but her husband, 61, isn't yet benefiting from the program. They both said they agree with Ryan's proposals to do something to save the retirement system from going broke, even if their adult children will have different plans.
"It's the biggest lie of the year that Republicans want to end Medicare," Barbara Teixeira said. "I don't believe a word of anything Shelley Berkley says."
Heller could not attend the Ryan rally because he had two Reno events, his campaign said.
"Dean considers Paul Ryan a personal friend and looks forward to campaigning with him," said Chandler Smith, Heller's campaign spokeswoman.
As for Berkley, Smith criticized the congresswoman for trimming Medicare.
"Shelley Berkley voted to cut $500 billion from Medicare to fund the massive government health care takeover called ObamaCare, which will bankrupt Medicare by 2024," Smith said. "Congresswoman Berkley has continued to ignore the problem and jeopardize seniors' access to care so she can base her entire campaign on the 'Lie of the Year.' "
Contact reporter Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow her on Twitter @lmyerslvrj.