Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan aggressively defended himself Tuesday against allegations that his GOP convention speech last week stretched the truth, saying that opponents and fact-checkers accusing him of false or misleading statements should “read the speech.”
Democrats are seizing on Ryan’s remarks, seeking to link them to his earlier errors about his personal marathon time and whether his congressional office sought economic stimulus dollars. On the campaign trail this week, Ryan also misstated the number of bankruptcies filed during President Obama’s tenure.
“While [Mitt] Romney and Ryan may want to revise the past, they can’t make up their own facts,” Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said, responding to Ryan’s criticism of the president in a speech Tuesday in Ohio.
Ryan aides vigorously defended the Wisconsin Republican, accusing Democrats of trying to weave a false narrative about him to distract from Obama’s failures in office. Asked whether the heightened scrutiny of Ryan’s convention speech poses a danger for the Republican ticket, one aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, responded: “The only danger is lazy reporters.”
With Democrats gathered this week in Charlotte, Ryan has taken on the role of attacking Obama’s record, making more than three dozen appearances since his convention speech. He has not been known to stretch the truth during his seven terms in Congress, according to colleagues and a review of his record Tuesday, but his recent slip-ups point to the perils of being thrust suddenly into the national spotlight.
During a round of appearances on morning news shows Tuesday, where he had intended to skewer Obama’s record, Ryan instead faced a flurry of questions about his remarks at the convention.
Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck disputed the contention that the candidate had made factual errors in the speech. But he acknowledged that Ryan had made small errors in other appearances. Those included a mistake about the setting in which Ronald Reagan asked his iconic “Are you better off?” question in the 1980 campaign.
“You get out and deliver a message as often as Paul Ryan has, you’re going to confuse a 30-year-old convention with a 30-year-old debate every now and then,” Buck said, referring to Ryan’s statement on Reagan. “Democrats are sorely mistaken if they think this petty name-calling is going to distract Americans from the president’s abysmal economic record.”
Earlier, Ryan told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he had run a marathon in less than three hours, then later acknowledged in a statement to Runner’s World magazine that the claim was false. His time in the 1990 marathon was four hours, one minute and 25 seconds.
Ryan also acknowledged soon after his selection last month as Romney’s running mate that he had urged the Obama administration to award millions of economic stimulus dollars to his district, even though he had voted against the 2009 package. He had denied in 2010 that he ever sought stimulus dollars and repeated that denial last month in an interview with a Cincinnati television station. He later said that his office had mishandled requests from constituents.
Democrats and independent fact-checkers have criticized statements in Ryan’s speech to the Republican National Convention, including his comments about the closing of a General Motors plant in Janesville, Wis., his home town. The candidate seemed to suggest that the president was responsible. But the plant was largely closed in December 2008, a month before Obama took office.
Pressed about the remark during an appearance Tuesday on the “Today” show, Ryan said he was not blaming Obama for the plant’s closing but rather for not helping, as he promised, “to lead an effort to retool plants like the Janesville plant to get people back to work.”
“Read the speech,” Ryan said. “What I was saying is the president ought to be held to account for his broken promises.”
On Monday, Ryan came under fire for saying at a Labor Day weekend event in Greenville, N.C., that “1.4 million businesses filed for bankruptcy” in 2011, far more than during President Jimmy Carter’s last year in office, when the nation was in another economic slump.
Campaign officials soon acknowledged that his numbers included both business and non-business bankruptcies, and that the number of business bankruptcies in 2011 was actually 47,806, compared with 43,694 under Carter in 1980. Ryan corrected the error Tuesday.
“He obviously misspoke, but it’s still an apples-to-apples comparison,” Buck said. “The point remains: Bankruptcies are up dramatically under President Obama compared to the Carter years.”
And campaign aides defended Ryan again Tuesday when he said in his Ohio speech that Reagan had asked in his convention address in 1980 if Americans were better off after four years under Carter. Reagan asked the question during a debate with Carter.
Republicans are invoking Reagan’s question to argue that Americans are not better off under Obama, and two giant “Are You Better Off?” signs decorated a Ryan rally later Tuesday in Iowa.
Audrey Roberts, a 65-year-old retiree and Romney-Ryan supporter from Avon Lake, Ohio, said she wasn’t concerned about any Ryan gaffes.
“Sometimes people might color their stories a little bit, but I don’t think it’s an intentional misstatement,” said Roberts, who attended Ryan’s speech Tuesday near Cleveland. “I might’ve said I made six dozen cookies when in reality, it was only five dozen.”
Alice Crites contributed to this story.