Obama camp counters Ryan rally

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Neil Johnson
Tuesday, August 28, 2012

— Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and state Sen. Jon Erpenbach appeared in downtown Janesville on Monday as part of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.

The two politicians spoke in front of an Obama campaign bus during a short press conference in an alley behind the Rock County Democratic Party office on West Milwaukee Street.

Organizers said the purpose of the appearance was to counter Monday's political rally for Janesville native and presumptive Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan at Craig High School.

The campaign decided to hold the appearance behind party headquarters as a convenient place to park the campaign bus, an organizer explained in an email.

While several hundred people flocked to the Ryan rally, Rybak and Erpenbach, D–Middleton, spoke as garbage trucks made their morning rounds downtown.

The two sought to paint Ryan as an ultra-conservative ideologue whose political plans are out of touch with the views of middle-class Americans.

It's part of a larger effort by Democrats and the Obama campaign to drain momentum from Republican presumptive presidential candidate Mitt Romney as he and Ryan head into the Republican National Convention this week.

The stop was among those slated by the Obama campaign this week in Milwaukee, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Wausau and Green Bay.

Rybak, who is a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, gave a relaxed speech, his hands in his pockets, in front of reporters and a crowd of about 20 local supporters.

Rybak cast Ryan as a respectable man, but he went on to bash the Janesville-born politician's stance on Medicare, the economy and the federal budget, characterizing Ryan as an ultra-conservative whose political and fiscal plans pose a threat to the American middle-class.

"He seems like a nice enough guy with a mean-spirited budget that would be one of the largest shifts of wealth from the middle class to the rich in the history of America. Possibly the largest," Rybak said.

Rybak, who was an early supporter of Obama in the 2008 presidential election, called Ryan's Medicare plan a "colossal mistake" that would "remove the safety net from seniors" just to give a "whole lot more money for people on Wall Street."

The appearance, which lasted less than a half-hour, was steeped in partisan rhetoric similar to that which Democrats have used in recent weeks to attack the Romney-Ryan campaign.

Erpenbach said he believes middle-class voters would be "surprised" at the degree to which Ryan's conservative politics could influence Romney's campaign, and ultimately, Romney's own plans as president.

"The one good thing out of picking Paul Ryan is that people in Wisconsin are going to take a very close look at what he stands for," he said.

Erpenbach picked apart Ryan's high-profile budget and tax policies and his plans to restructure Medicare.

"You can't run from your record. You can't run from the fact that on Medicare, he wants to get rid of it and give seniors a voucher, which is going to cost more money. You can't run away from the fact that your budget proposes a $250,000 tax break for millionaires. You just can't," he said.

Erpenbach dismissed the fever pitch that Ryan's candidacy announcement this month has lent to the Romney campaign, especially in Wisconsin, telling The Gazette the excitement will prove to be a "blip" over the long term. He cited national polls that he says show Obama still holds a majority of voter support in Wisconsin.

Erpenbach said he believes Obama will retain overriding popularity in Wisconsin, a state he carried with 56 percent of the vote in 2008 presidential election, but he acknowledged the Obama campaign has "work to do" to maintain a lead here.

Rybak said the Democratic Party views Wisconsin and the Midwest as the political "heart the country," and he said the Obama campaign plans to focus heavy effort there to sway voters of all stripes.

"We have a pretty clear choice, here, that goes beyond just who is from whose hometown. It's really about whether Main Street America is going to be kicked in the gut just so that we can give people who are already comfortable an even more comfortable ride," Rybak said. "We need an economy that's fair."

Last updated: 5:04 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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