MANASSAS — Mitt Romney and his newly-announced running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, closed out their Saturday barnstorming of Virginia at a Manassas rally that attracted more than 8,000 people on a day that appeared to give the former Massachusetts governor a much-needed pep in his step.
The Romney campaign's sudden announcement late Friday that he would unveil his running mate on Saturday and the roll-out of Mr. Ryan, a lightning-rod conservative loved by the right and loathed by the left for his proposals to overhaul the country's entitlements quickly suspended talk — if temporarily — about Mr. Romney's tax returns and a yawning gap between himself and President Obama in recent polls.
The crowd overwhelmed Harris Pavilion in Manassas, with eager onlookers still packing the streets hoping to get a glance at the 2012 Republican ticket.
"Hope and change has become attack and blame," Mr. Ryan told the crowd in the same city where Mr. Obama held his final campaign event of 2008. "You know what? We're not going to fall for it."
The 42-year-old policy wonk, has already emerged as one of Mr. Obama's most prominent Republican foils on Capitol Hill because of his budget proposals and plans to overhaul the country's Medicare and Medicaid systems that have drawn significant criticism from the left.
For Mr. Romney, Mr. Ryan appeared to be just what he needed Saturday. His selection now draws an ironclad ideological line between the Republican ticket and Mr. Obama and presents a palatable running mate for the GOP base.
"Today was a good day for me, I gotta tell you," Mr. Romney said. "If you said one word about Paul Ryan, it would probably be 'leader.' "
The two kicked off their tour in Norfolk, with the decommissioned USS Wisconsin as a backdrop.
Mr. Romney, in introducing Mr. Ryan, the U.S. House Budget Committee chairman, called him a "shining example" of an outlier in cacophonous Washington, D.C.
"Paul Ryan was in Washington," he said, "but his beliefs remain firmly rooted in Janesville, Wisconsin."
In his first public speech after being announced as Mr. Romney's running mate, Mr. Ryan delivered a positive view of the future of an America rooted in free enterprise and government by the consent of the governed, while still proving he'll be able to be an effective attack dog in the coming months.
"No one disputes President Obama inherited a difficult situation," Mr. Ryan told the nearly 3,000 people who were gathered Saturday morning. "And, in his first two years, with his party in complete control of Washington, he passed nearly every item on his agenda. But that didn't make things better. In fact, we find ourselves in a nation facing debt, doubt and despair."
Mr. Romney actually introduced Mr. Ryan, who walked down from the USS Wisconsin, as "the next president of the United States."
Later, self-effacingly, he corrected himself.
"Every now and then I make a mistake," Mr. Romney said. "But I didn't make a mistake with this guy."
Saturday was the first day of a four-state bus tour for the Romney campaign that also includes trips to North Carolina, Florida and Ohio.
Mr. Obama's campaign immediately blasted Mr. Romney's pick.
"In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.
The selection, however, was an immediate hit with the Tea Party Express.
"Ryan is a strong fiscal conservative, and he has used his chairmanship of the House Budget Committee to address the serious financial woes facing the country," Chairman Amy Kremer said.
"Selecting someone like Paul Ryan, who is so popular with tea party activists, proves that Mitt Romney is committed to addressing the economic issues that have been troubling our nation for the last four years," she said.
Later in the day, in the town of Ashland, about 15 miles north of Richmond, Mr. Romney repeated his attack on Mr. Obama's recent statement that if someone built a business, they inevitably had help from the government or other people.
"When I heard that quote, I couldn't believe it," Mr. Romney said. "The context is worse than the quote, all right?"
Indeed, the Obama campaign has said the quote was taken out of the context of a larger point Mr. Obama was trying to make. He has clarified himself on the trail in recent weeks, and has released a campaign ad to clarify the remark as well.
But Mr. Romney has nevertheless continued to hammer the remarks, saying Saturday that when a student makes the honor roll, he understands that they take a bus to school, but he gives credit to the student, not the bus driver.
Mr. Ryan, meanwhile, said simply that what Washington needs is new leadership.
"We don't need attack, we don't need blame — we need leadership," Mr. Ryan said. "President Obama can't run on his record, because it's a terrible thing to run on."
The crowd of nearly 2,500 was so large that Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan held an impromptu overflow rally for an estimated 500 to 800 people outside Randolph-Macon College's Crenshaw Gymnasium, where the rally was held.
Mr. Romney also clarified remarks he made indoors, where he said he hopes Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling is "the next governor of Virginia." Mr. Bolling is squaring off against Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II in the 2013 contest for the GOP nomination.
"We want to make sure to have a Republican take [Gov. Bob McDonnell's] place," Mr. Romney said. "There are a couple of guys in the race, I love them both. I want to see one of those guys take his place."
The Romney camp also clarified that he wants to see a Republican as governor of Virginia, but has not endorsed a candidate.
Bolling spokeswoman Taylor Thornley said the two are just good friends, and Mr. Romney was just trying to be kind.
"You shouldn't read anything more into his comment than that," she said. "We're focused on getting Governor Romney elected president. That's all that matters right now."
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David Sherfinski covers politics for The Washington Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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