Republican nominee for Vice President Paul Ryan addressed a packed crowd today at East Carolina University Greenville, NC. He was standing more than two hundred miles east of the site where the Democratic National Convention is due to begin tomorrow, but they could hear him in Charlotte. His message was clear: America is no better off, and in many ways worse off, than it was when President Barack Obama came to office.
The audience–two thousand inside the gymnasium, several hundred in overflow seating next door, and thousands more turned away–stood patiently in the humid, sweltering late summer heat to see the Ryan, drawing numbers reminiscent of the closing weeks of the 2008 campaign, when Gov. Sarah Palin drew enthusiastic standing-room-only crowds even as the Obama/Biden ticket honed in on victory. Today, polls heading into the convention show the Romney/Ryan ticket either winning or closing the gap quickly.
The Ryan event was aimed not only at voters in a must-win swing state, but also sent a signal of strength and defiance as Democrats begin making their pitch to the nation. The Obama campaign has struggled to stay on message, as several surrogates–including master political strategist David Axelrod–have failed to answer “yes” to journalists who have asked the simple question whether Americans are better off today than in 2008.
Ryan took full advantage:
We know that your governor’s over there, and your lieutenant governor–and we also know that President Obama’s over there. [Boos] And President Obama’s going to be giving a big speech. And there are going to be lots of speeches–a lot of words. Let me quote President Obama four years ago: “If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.” Ladies and gentlemen, that is exactly what Barack Obama is doing today. [Cheers] You see, the President has no record to run on. [Audience: “That’s right!] In fact, every president since the Great Depression who asked Americans to send them into a second term could say that you were better off today than you were four years ago. Except for Jimmy Carter and for President Barack Obama. [Cheers]
Mainstream media journalists were at the event in abundance–though they paid what seemed to be disproportionate attention to a small group of Obama supporters who had gathered to demonstrate against Ryan. Ryan spoke evenly, citing facts and figures, punctuating crowd-pleasing lines with explanations aimed at a national audience.
Aides strolled through the crowd–including foreign policy adviser Dan Senor, who watched from the back of the room. The next stop for the Romney/Ryan team is Vermont, where they will prepare for the October debates, keeping a low profile while the Democrats stage their convention. Other Republicans will remain on the front lines in Charlotte. For now, Ryan has thrown down a challenge that Obama must answer.