MOORESVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Mitt Romney's campaign sought to put some distance Sunday between the presidential candidate and his new running mate's controversial budget proposals, even as Paul Ryan's selection energized Republican voters and Romney himself.
But President Barack Obama's campaign made clear they planned to aggressively cast Ryan's budget as outside the mainstream — and argue that Romney now owns that plan, too.
"Gov. Romney is at the top of the ticket. And Governor Romney's vision for the country is something that Congressman Ryan supports," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said Sunday during a briefing for reporters.
Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to the Republican campaign, said Romney would have signed Ryan's budget if landed on his desk as president. But he emphasized that as president Romney would "be putting forward his own budget."
The Romney campaign's efforts to draw that distinction underscored the political risk in picking Ryan, the architect of an austere, long-term budget plan remaking Medicare and cutting trillions in federal spending.
David Axelrod, Obama's senior adviser, cast Ryan as a "right wing ideologue" who wants to convert Medicare into a voucher plan and put the popular health-care program for the elderly in "a death spiral."
"It is a pick that is meant to thrill the most strident voices in the Republican Party, but it's one that should trouble everybody else — the middle class, seniors, students," Axelrod said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
Ryan's addition to the GOP ticket appeared to reinvigorate Romney, who cast the selection as the start of a new phase for a campaign seeking to break out of a summer slump.
"This is Day Two for me," said Romney during a campaign rally with his running mate in North Carolina. "This is Day Two on our comeback tour to get America strong again, to rebuild the promise of America."
Romney announced his vice presidential pick Saturday morning at the start of a four-day bus tour that would serve as an introduction to Ryan for many voters.
A recent CNN/ORC international poll showed a majority of voters had no opinion of the congressman. Nearly 40 percent had never heard of him and 16 percent weren't sure what they thought of him.
Romney's selection of Ryan jolted the presidential contest and set the contours for the fall campaign: Romney as a proponent of a friendlier business climate seeking to revitalize the economy and rein in federal spending while Obama seeks to cast himself as a defender of middle-class families and federal spending on health care, retirement pensions and education.
Still, the fundamentals of the campaign remained unchanged: a race defined by a weak economy and high unemployment, measured most recently at 8.3 percent in July. Recent national polls as well as surveys in several battleground states indicate a narrow advantage for Obama, though Romney hopes to get a boost of momentum from the attention he was getting with his running-mate announcement.
It remains uncertain whether Ryan on the ticket will influence the state-by-state race to reach the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the White House.
Democrats say Romney's embrace of Ryan could open the door for Obama with older voters in battleground states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania who may be wary of the Wisconsin congressman's plans for remaking Medicare.
The Obama campaign was readying state-specific strategies aimed at seniors in Florida and Ohio. The campaign also planned to target young people and military service members who they believe will oppose other elements of Ryan's proposed budget cuts.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan is the primary author of conservative tax and spending blueprints that the tea party-infused Republican majority approved over vigorous Democratic opposition in 2011 and again in 2012.
They envision transforming Medicare into a program in which future seniors would receive government checks that they could use to purchase health insurance. Under the current program, the government directly pays doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.
Ryan and other supporters say the change is needed to prevent the program from financial calamity. Critics argue it would impose ever-increasing costs on seniors.
Other elements of the budget plan would cut projected spending for Medicaid, which provides health care for the poor, as well as food stamps, student loans and other social programs that Obama and Democrats have pledged to defend.
In all, it projects spending cuts of $5.3 trillion over a decade and would cut future projected deficits substantially.
In talking points circulated to Republicans, the Romney campaign said the presumptive GOP nominee would applaud Ryan for going in the right direction with his budget but would put forth his own plan for cutting the deficit as president.
Republicans say Ryan could help put Wisconsin, which traditionally has voted Democratic in presidential campaigns, in play and that the Catholic Midwesterner also could appeal to blue-collar voters that Romney, a Mormon and multimillionaire, has struggled to reach in Iowa and elsewhere.
The campaigners have three months to make their case, with the national party conventions coming in just weeks and the series of presidential debates scheduled for October.
Both presidential tickets were wasting little time plunging into the next phase of the campaign.
On Sunday, Romney and Ryan were appearing at a series of rallies in North Carolina — a competitive state in the race — as part of a multistate bus tour before ending the day in Waukesha, Wis., in a homecoming-themed event for Ryan. Romney then planned to head to Florida and Ohio as the week begins, while Ryan was scheduled to travel to Iowa on Monday as the ticket looked to cover as much ground as possible.
Obama, for his part, was starting a three-day bus tour of Iowa on Monday, signifying the importance of the toss-up Midwestern state. And he was dispatching Vice President Joe Biden to North Carolina on Monday followed by a two-day swing through Virginia starting Tuesday.
But first, Obama was to host a series of birthday-themed fundraisers Sunday in Chicago. He kept a low-profile Saturday, meeting privately with top aides at his downtown Chicago campaign headquarters as Romney introduced Ryan to cheering supporters at a trio of events in Virginia.
Thus far, Obama was leaving it to his campaign advisers and Democratic allies to tear into the choice of Ryan.
"The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires and deep cuts in education, from Head Start to college aid," Jim Messina, the president's campaign manager, said in a written statement.
"His plan would also end Medicare as we know it by turning it into a voucher system, shifting thousands of dollars in health care costs to seniors," he said.
Some party officials noted that Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker and one-time Republican presidential candidate, referred to Ryan's plan to overhaul Medicare as "right-wing social engineering," a line that Democrats envisioned in attack ads. Gingrich later apologized.
Thomas reported from Chicago.