GOFFSTOWN, N.H. – Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, campaigning in a state with a median age higher than Florida’s, criticized President Obama on Monday morning for his health care law and said the Republican ticket would be more likely to put Medicare on sounder financial footing.
“Medicare should not be a piggybank for Obamacare!” Ryan said.
It was their first town hall meeting where voters could ask questions since Romney named Ryan as his running mate nine days ago. But little went awry and there were no questions about the insensitive remarks on rape by a GOP candidate for Senate in Missouri that have put some Republicans on the defensive.
Under blue skies on a Saint Anselm College quad, a giant banner saying “America’s Comeback Team” was draped over a brick building covered in ivy, and a video screen played biographical videos of Romney with soaring music. Some 3,000 attendees waved little American flags that were handed out by the campaign.
New Hampshire has become an increasing focus in the presidential election. Obama was in the state Saturday, using his third trip of the year here to rail against Republican plans on taxes and changing Medicare.
“You would think they would avoid talking about Medicare, given the fact that both of them have proposed to voucherize the Medicare system,” Obama said during a campaign stop in Windham, N.H. “But I guess they figure the best defense is to try to go on offense.”
Ryan and Romney expressed eagerness Monday for the debate, and sought to cast it in their own terms.
“We keep hearing about Medicare lately from the president,” Ryan said. “We want this debate, we need this debate, and we are going to win this debate on Medicare.”
Ryan criticized Obama for using $716 billion in savings from Medicare and applying it to his health care law. But Ryan did not mention that his own budget plan also used the same amount of savings, while applying the money to different uses.
He noted that his mother has been on Medicare for 10 years and that the program helped him and his mother take care of his grandmother as she suffered from Alzheimer’s.
“It’s not just a program with numbers and words,” Ryan said. “It’s personal security that has been there for my family when we needed.”
Ryan visited the Romney campaign headquarters in Boston Monday afternoon, for the first time meeting the staff for a campaign that he joined a week ago. After two days last week of campaigning together, Romney and Ryan had not planned to rejoin on the stump until the Republican National Convention next week.
But Romney campaign advisers, citing a chemistry between Romney and Ryan and the excitement they draw from crowds, decided to schedule another event for them in New Hampshire.
Town hall meetings can provide off-the-cuff moments with candidates, who are forced to respond to questions from any voter who can get before a microphone. But on Monday, the only time they seemed to be put on the spot was when topics turned to foreign policy.
“Our guys are coming home in body bags,” one man said. “If you guys take over in Washington, what are you going to do about this damn mess in Afghanistan?”
Romney criticized Obama for not talking about the topic enough, saying he ought to “time and time again” address the American public about what’s happening with troops overseas. But Romney himself didn’t state a fundamental difference in policy.
“I will do everything in my power to transition from our military to their military as soon as possible,” Romney said. “Bring our men and women home and do so in a way consistent with our mission, which is to keep Afghanistan from being overrun by a new entity which would allow Afghanistan to be a launching point for terror again like it was on 9/11.”
Ryan, who at one point jokingly alluded to his lack of foreign policy experience by saying “overseas” where he comes from “means Lake Superior,” largely echoed Romney’s talking points. He criticized Obama, saying he “has made decisions that are more political in nature than military in nature,” and he argued that the United States should do more to support Israel and prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
New Hampshire offers a mere four electoral votes, but that may be enough to decide the entire race. It is the only swing state in New England, a region where the other 29 electoral votes are all but assured to go to Obama.
But New Hampshire has shown a willingness to buck regional trends. Three of the past five elections have been decided by 1 percentage point or less.
The state offers a national barometer. If Romney is unable to secure independents in New Hampshire — a state that fits closely with his brand of politics — he is unlikely to fare well in other crucial swing states.
Romney, who has a vacation home in Wolfeboro, N.H., has also spent a lot of time in the state, and has made it a top focus for his campaign.
“Gosh, I feel like I’m almost a New Hampshire resident,” Romney said on Monday. “It would save me some tax dollars, I think.”
Ryan is not a complete stranger to New Hampshire. He visited in February 2010, headlining a fund-raiser and speaking at Saint Anselm College. At the time he dismissed any speculation that he would seek the presidency.
“I’m not one of those people,” he said at the time, according to the Portsmouth Herald. “I’m not seeking a promotion.”
At one point, as Ryan was wrapping up his remarks, the bells behind him began to toll.
“Only a Catholic guy would be able to get the bells to toll just at the right time at Saint Anselm’s,” Romney said.
Ryan is planning to be back in New Hampshire on Saturday for a fund-raiser — and possibly a public event — and Romney campaign advisers say they plan to use him a lot in the Granite State, particularly in southern areas where voters share his Catholic faith.
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.