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VP nominee-to-be whips crowd into a froth 

Paul Ryan at a campaign rally at SMT, Inc., a sheet metal fabrication factory in Raleigh, where he railed against the Obama administration

Photo by Jeremy M. Lange

Paul Ryan at a campaign rally at SMT, Inc., a sheet metal fabrication factory in Raleigh, where he railed against the Obama administration

Ed Goodwin, the GOP's N.C. secretary of state hopeful, is not the main act here. That would be Paul Ryan, the number-crunching ab-master and Ayn Rand disciple who Republicans hope will galvanize Mitt Romney's campaign into unseating President Obama this fall.

This is a coming-out party for Ryan in North Carolina. Several thousand fired-up conservatives turned out at SMT, a sheet metal factory in north Raleigh, to see him 11 days after Romney unveiled the Wisconsin congressman as his running mate.

Goodwin doesn't seem to notice.

"For the Marines in the crowd, say 'whoo-ahhhh,'" Goodwin shouts. What follows is a shout-out to most of the military branches, while Goodwin, county commissioner of Chowan County in eastern North Carolina, proclaims himself a "freedom fighter."

"We are united for one reason and one reason only: to save our country," Goodwin bellows as the crowd begins its first of several "USA" chants. "I'm ready to go to battle!"

Goodwin's red-blooded remarks provided one of the most raucous points of the Aug. 22 rally. It was a heated, almost militant moment in an otherwise economically minded event where conservatives looked to elevate Ryan—the architect of controversial deficit-cutting federal budgets—above the balance sheets.

Vice presidential candidates are generally considered eager attack dogs for their running mate, taking shots at the other side that might otherwise be passed over by a presidential candidate playing centrist. Vice President Joe Biden took the offensive in 2008, sniping at GOP nominee John McCain from afar while Obama talked about hope.

Attack dog might not seem the obvious role for a brainy politician like Ryan, billed by GOP speakers last week in Raleigh as the country's future chief financial officer. But Ryan plays the role, firing shots at Democrats on the economy, American debt, what he sees as Obama's failed promise and even Chinese financial markets.

"We need to take them to the carpet and hold them to accounts," Ryan says of the Chinese. "Give 'em hell, Paul!" a man shouts from the crowd.

Ryan hit on many of the right's big-ticket items—fiscal responsibility, shoring up small businesses and cutting taxes for the wealthy. But the most full-throated cheer came when the congressman promised a Romney presidency would repeal Obama's health care overhaul, commonly known as "Obamacare," an initiative that Ryan said raids Medicare funds to foot the bills.

Medicare figures to be a popular talking point this fall. Democrats are targeting the Romney ticket over Ryan's controversial budget proposals to replace Medicare with a voucher system reimbursing individuals paying for their own health insurance.

In front of a Romney banner proclaiming "We did build it!," Ryan used the stop primarily to underscore the differences between the Obama and Romney camps, touting Romney as a business-savvy, bipartisan leader and the president as a bitterly partisan, irresponsible spender.

"President Obama and the words 'fiscal responsibility' do not belong in the same sentence," Ryan said.

His entry in the race comes as Republicans, trailing Obama in a handful of battleground states, seek to position the campaign spotlight firmly on the middling economy.

The president has acknowledged the slow economic growth in the country over the last four years, but conservatives like Romney and Ryan point to frustratingly high unemployment in North Carolina (9.6 percent) and nationwide (8.3 percent). They blame the president's policies for the jobless masses and the country's downgraded credit rating, a fiscal blow dealt last year as Democrats and Republicans bickered over budget savings.

Ryan argued one solution is to offer a better environment for small businesses, saying American tax codes penalize successful entrepreneurs such as SMT President Susan Rothecker for their success.

"This is something we should be proud of," Ryan said. "This is something we should celebrate in this country."

On its website, SMT prominently trumpets itself as a "woman-owned and operated enterprise." It's likely no coincidence that SMT hosted the rally, as the Romney-Ryan ticket struggles to reverse a wide polling gap among female voters driven by the campaign's stances against abortion, contraception—and most recently, Ryan's comment that rape is a "method of conception."

Across the street from the SMT plant, more than a dozen women protested GOP positions on women's health.

Ryan's conservative views on the matter have dominated headlines in recent days. Democrats seek to tie Ryan's position—banning abortion in all cases, including rape and incest—to that of Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.

Akin's infamous "legitimate rape" comments last week triggered widespread outrage; the Romney campaign has denounced the candidate's comments.

Not surprisingly, Ryan did not talk about abortion or Akin, saving his most pointed remarks for Obama's record on the economy.

"The president inherited a difficult situation when he came into office," Ryan said. "Here's the problem: He's made things much worse."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Paul Ryan, GOP tool."

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