Raleigh, N.C. — Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan told a cheering Raleigh audience Wednesday that President Barack Obama's economic legacy pales in comparison to that of Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Speaking at SMT Inc., a 40-year-old sheet metal fabrication company in northwest Raleigh, Ryan said the nation needs to celebrate such home-grown businesses, not try to paint them as the enemy of the middle class.
"Success is a good thing in America. That's what jobs are all about," he said.
Obama's campaign has portrayed Romney's business career as one built on tax breaks and shipping U.S. jobs overseas, and the president is seeking to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans to pay for programs he says will benefit the majority of the country.
"Hope and change is now attack and blame," Ryan said, recalling Obama's 2008 campaign slogan. "He's seeking to divide this country."
Ryan divided Obama and Romney, contrasting the president's record in Washington, D.C., with his running mate's record as governor of Massachusetts.
The U.S. credit rating was downgraded on Obama's watch, while Massachusetts' rating was upgraded while Romney was in office, he said. Likewise, he said, the unemployment rate in Massachusetts fell during Romney's tenure, while the national rate has topped 8 percent for 42 straight months.
"It's accurate to say President Obama inherited a bad situation when he came into office. Here's the problem: He made things much worse," he said.
Life in Washington under Obama's leadership has been "the most bitter, acrimonious, partisan time," Ryan said, adding that Romney was able to build consensus in a Democratic-controlled Massachusetts to balance the state budget without a tax increase.
Calling North Carolina's 9.6 percent unemployment rate "unacceptable," Ryan said Romney's economic policies would create 355,000 jobs in the state and 12 million nationwide.
The policies include an emphasis on domestic energy production, an education system controlled by parents that provides students with skills needed by employers, foreign trade agreements that favor U.S. exports and a balanced federal budget.
"President Obama and the words 'fiscal responsibility' do not belong in the same sentence," Ryan said. "President Obama is putting us on a path of debt, a path of decline and a path of doubt."
Ryan also vowed that he and Romney would repeal the national health care reform effort that Obama signed into law two years ago.
"We will end this," he said to raucous cheers, saying the "Obamacare" program is "siphoning off" money from Social Security and Medicare.
Tough battle expected in NC
Before arriving in North Carolina – his second visit to the state in 10 days – Ryan stopped in Roanoke, Va.
Virginia and North Carolina are two states that Obama captured in 2008 – the first time either voted for a Democratic president in decades – and Republicans hope to recapture them in November.
Democrats tapped 4th District Congressmen David Price and U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen to respond to Ryan's visit. Van Hollen, a Democrat from Maryland, serves with Ryan on the House Budget Committee and said Ryan's spending plan includes deep cuts to education and student aid.
"They want to double down on tax breaks for the very wealthy – for people like Mitt Romney – at the expense of everyone and everything else," Van Hollen said in a visit to North Carolina State University.
He said Romney and Ryan would cut Pell Grants by more than $800 a year for each of 250,000 college students in North Carolina.
Price called the GOP ticket "profoundly dangerous to higher education."
Federal election records show Obama has raised $3.9 million so far in North Carolina, compared with slightly more than $3 million by Romney. In the Raleigh area, which was an Obama stronghold four years ago, Romney leads the president $457,000 to $435,000.
"We are not going to duck the tough issues. We are not going to kick the can down the road. We're going to lead," Ryan told the crowd in Raleigh. "It's not too late to turn this around, to get this right."
Ryan energizes audience
Most attendees said they think Romney and Ryan have the energy and vision to get it done.
"I thought he was great. Everything was a clear plan and set a good course for America moving forward," Merrit Ashton said.
"I was very impressed with him. I can't say anything negative," Blake Hutchins said.
"I'm absolutely, totally enthused (and) invigorated. I think Romney-Ryan is the future of this country," Chad Goolsby said.
Independent voter Alfonso McAfee said he wasn't convinced.
"I know he didn't have a lot of time, but I thought he could've been more in-depth with some of his solutions and platforms," McAfee said.
"I like to hear pros and cons of both sides," said Sammy Holt, who also described himself as an independent voter. "I agree with what he said. As along as it's moral and sticks with the standards, I'm all for it."
About two dozen protesters demonstrated across the street from SMT, expressing opposition to the Republican stance on various issues, including abortion.
Ryan was to attend a 5 p.m. fundraiser at the Raleigh home of John Kane, the chairman and chief executive of North Hills developer Kane Realty. The event costs $2,500 for a general reception ticket, $15,000 for a photo reception or $25,000 for the VIP reception, according to a flier for the fundraiser.
Ryan also is scheduled to attend a defense industry roundtable Thursday morning at the Partnership for Defense Innovation in Fayetteville. That event isn't open to the public.