COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — President Barack Obama and Joe Biden moved quickly Monday to link GOP rivals Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to House Republicans who Democrats blame for causing gridlock in Washington and pressing policies to protect the wealthy.
Obama, campaigning in Iowa, accused Ryan of blocking a congressional farm bill, seeking to link Romney by extension to a Washington stalemate that could help Midwestern voters cope with a crippling drought.
"If you happen to see Congressman Ryan, tell him how important this farm bill is to Iowa and our rural communities," Obama said. "We've got to put politics aside when it comes to doing the right thing for rural America and for Iowa."
Biden sought to break through Romney's efforts to put some distance between his proposals and Ryan's austere budget plans, which Democrats believe could give them an opening with seniors fearful of his proposed overhaul of Medicare.
"Let's cut through all of this," Biden said during a rally in North Carolina. "They are running on what the Republican Congress has been promoting for the past four years."
The Democratic effort sought to snag some of the excitement surrounding the Republican ticket since Romney named Ryan as his running mate on Saturday. Ryan was making his first solo campaign appearances in Iowa Monday, while Romney stumped for votes in Florida.
Romney briefly defended his new running mate's budget proposals for Medicare, telling Florida voters that the Republican ticket wants to "make sure that we preserve and protect Medicare."
"He's come up with ideas that are very different than the president's," Romney said of Ryan. "The president's idea, for example, for Medicare, was to cut it by $700 billion. That's not the right answer."
Campaigning on an unseasonably cool day in Iowa, Obama wore a jacket as he addressed roughly 4,300 people at a park in Council Bluffs, where buildings on the square were decked out with red-white-and-blue bunting and American flags. Many supporters held light blue Obama-Biden posters, a recognition that the Republican competition now has two names as well, Romney and Ryan.
The president put the power of his office on prominent display, announcing plans to buy up to $170 million worth of meat and poultry from distressed ranchers and farmers. Iowa's six electoral votes could be pivotal in what has been a tight election.
Obama has urged Congress to pass a farm bill to provide a long-term solution for farmers. Democrats and Republicans are at odds over the program's farm subsidies and food stamps, with Ryan among the GOP lawmakers backing cuts in food stamp programs that are opposed by the president's party.
The Republican-controlled House approved a bill earlier this month to provide short-term disaster relief to farmers and ranchers. The Democratic-controlled Senate refused to act on the measure before lawmakers began a monthlong break.
Touring the Iowa State Fair, Ryan declined to respond directly when asked about Obama's criticism.
"We'll get into all those policy things later," he said. "Right now I just want to enjoy the fair."
Romney's campaign played up Ryan's upbringing in Wisconsin, which has a significant agricultural industry. Spokesman Ryan Williams said "no one will work harder to defend farmers and ranchers than the Romney-Ryan ticket."
Ryan's events in Iowa could help determine whether conservative excitement for the Wisconsin congressman — and his austere budget plans — will overshadow Romney's message and Republican attacks on Obama's economic performance.
A pro-Romney super PAC is spending more than $10 million on a new television advertisement criticizing Obama's handling of the economy as the nation's unemployment rate lingers above 8 percent.
"Another month. Even more Americans jobless," says the narrator in the ad from the group, Restore Our Future, which is led by people with close ties to Romney.
The spot will air for more than a week across 11 presidential battleground states, including Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Democrats are banking on Ryan and his controversial budget proposals overshadowing Romney's message and Republican attacks on Obama's economic performance.
Since Romney formally named Ryan as his running mate on Saturday, the Obama campaign has gone after the Republican budget architect's plans to transform Medicare into a voucher system and re-shape the nation's tax system.
A top Obama political adviser, David Axelrod, said Monday that Romney's selection of Ryan is reminiscent of John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin four years ago. He told "CBS This Morning" he remembers the initial excitement surrounding Palin's selection, but says he doesn't believe the choice of Ryan "is going to be a plus for Mr. Romney."
Axelrod called Ryan "a genial fellow" who advocates harsh policy positions, particularly on Medicare.
Ryan figures to play prominently in Obama's message during his three-day bus tour across Iowa, his longest visit to a single state during the campaign.
Obama's bus tour began in Council Bluffs, across the Missouri River from Omaha, Neb., and head across the state before wrapping up in Davenport along the Mississippi River.
Ryan, a 42-year-old congressman, is best-known for proposing to reshape Medicare by setting up a voucher-like system to let future retirees shop for private health coverage or choose the traditional program. Independent budget analysts have said the plan would probably mean higher out-of-pocket costs for seniors.
Looking to define the Republican ticket's views on Medicare, the Obama campaign released an online video Monday featuring seniors in Florida talking about how Ryan's proposed changes to the popular health care program could affect them.
"It doesn't make any sense to cut Medicare," says one woman. The video aims to portray the Romney-Ryan ticket as a threat to Medicare and Obama as its protector.
The commercial comes as Romney gently tries to distance himself from his running mate's budget plan, making clear that his ideas rule, not Ryan's.
"I have my budget plan," Romney said, "And that's the budget plan we're going to run on."
The Romney campaign, meanwhile, released a new ad accusing the Obama administration of "gutting welfare reform."
The new television advertisement released Monday accused the Obama White House of stripping the work requirement from the nation's welfare law. It's the same charge the Republican candidate levied in a separate ad last week.
Independent fact checkers have found the premise of the ad to be false.