HIGH POINT, N.C. — In Paul Ryan's high-energy debut as Republican vice presidential candidate, Mitt Romney's campaign made one thing clear: Romney's ideas rule, not his running mate's.
Romney put gentle but unmistakable distance between his agenda and Ryan's hot-potato budget proposals on Sunday as the new team soaked up excitement from partisans in North Carolina and Ryan's home state of Wisconsin. But Democrats weren't about to let them off that hook.
President Barack Obama's senior campaign adviser David Axelrod deemed Ryan's budget "the Ryan-Romney plan" and cast the new addition to the Republican ticket as a "right wing ideologue."
"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.
Romney walked a careful line as he campaigned with Ryan by his side in North Carolina. Romney singled out Ryan's work "to make sure we can save Medicare." But the presidential candidate never said whether he embraced that plan himself. During the Republican primary, Romney had called Ryan's budget a "bold and exciting effort" that was "very much needed."
Ryan proposed to reshape the long-standing entitlement by setting up a voucher-like system to let future retirees shop for private health coverage or choose the traditional program — a plan that independent budget analysts say would probably mean smaller increases in benefits than current law would provide.
Romney aides, echoing talking points they circulated to party leaders and operatives, praised Ryan's budget work, but sought to draw a distinction between his ideas and Romney's. They were clearly mindful that some of Ryan's proposals don't sit well with key constituencies, among them seniors in critical states like Florida and Ohio.
"Gov. Romney is at the top of the ticket," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told reporters Sunday. "And Gov. Romney's vision for the country is something that Congressman Ryan supports,"