In a speech that appeared intended to quell doubts among seniors about his proposal to overhaul Medicare, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan took a deeply personal approach Saturday morning in describing what he and Mitt Romney have in mind for the health insurance program for the elderly and the disabled.
Taking the stage with his 78-year-old mother at this sprawling central Florida retirement community, Ryan told the crowd stories of his family as he made the case that he and Romney would not change the benefits of current seniors. He offered few specifics about his own plan but went into the greatest detail yet in hammering President Obama on the issue.
"Our plan does not affect the benefits for people who are in or near retirement," Ryan told the several hundred senior citizens gathered around a gazebo. "It’s a promise that was made, and it’s a promise that must be kept. But in order to make sure we can guarantee that promise for my mom’s generation, for those baby boomers that are retiring every day, we must reform it for my generation."
There was no mistaking the reason for Ryan’s visit to this 60,000-person retirement community, referred to by residents as "Disney World for older people" — a place where retirees speed around in golf carts and enjoy daily entertainment programs. A huge sign reading "Protect & Strengthen Medicare" was hung behind the podium, the first time the word "Medicare" has shown up on a campaign sign in the week since Ryan was tapped to serve as Romney’s running mate. And several times during his speech, he took the hand of his mother, Betty Douglas, a former interior designer and a part-time resident of Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, four hours away in south Florida.
"This is my mom, Betty. She’s why I’m here. She and her grandkids are why I’m here," Ryan said as he introduced his mother, clad in a bright yellow top and white capris, to the crowd. The candidate wore a dark-blue, short-sleeved polo shirt.
Seniors made up nearly a quarter of all Florida voters in the 2008 general election, and they represent a key group that Romney and Ryan will have to woo if they are to win the battleground state — and other senior-heavy states — this fall.
Ryan’s speech Saturday marked the first time the GOP ticket has made a major push to go on offense against on the Medicare issue. For his first few days as Romney’s running mate, Ryan made no mention of the program on the trail, and even after he began bringing up the issue toward the middle of this week, he took aim at Obama and largely steered clear of discussing his own proposals.