CLEVELAND, Ohio - With the race for the White House now in its final stretch, Congressman Paul Ryan delivered his first major policy speech as a vice presidential nominee Wednesday, pitching a vision the Republican ticket hopes will lift America's most vulnerable out of poverty.
"Upward mobility is the central promise of life in America but right now, America's engines of upward mobility aren't working the way they should," Ryan decried.
"Mitt Romney and I are running because we believe that Americans are better off in a dynamic, free-enterprise-based economy that fosters economic growth, opportunity and upward mobility instead of a stagnant, government-directed economy that stifles job creation and fosters government dependency."
Ryan accused big government for stalling those engines, and derided the idea of simply throwing money at anti-poverty programs without achieving results as one that has decimated families and communities -- especially, he says, under President Obama.
"During the last four years, the number of people living on food stamps has gone up by 15 million. Medicaid is reaching a breaking point, and one in four American student fails to attain a high-school diploma," he said. "In this war on poverty, poverty is winning. We deserve better."
The Wisconsin congressman described a Republican alternative that would balance government programs with private community-based groups, and said a Romney-Ryan administration would use the principles of the 1996 welfare-reform law to give flexibility back to states to ensure less Americans are being left behind.
"Mitt Romney and I want to apply this idea to other anti-poverty programs, such as Medicaid and food stamps," he said. "The federal government would continue to provide the resources, but we would remove the endless federal mandates and restrictions that hamper state efforts to make these programs more effective."
The Romney-Ryan team is hoping this will help them win back some voters who soured on the ticket after video was leaked showing Mitt Romney saying 47 percent of Americans are "dependent on government" and "believe they are victims."
"Mitt and I have a message that's bigger than party," Ryan said Wednesday. "We are speaking to all Americans in this campaign because we believe that economic growth and equality of opportunity are the surest path to the pursuit of happiness."
Not everyone warmed to the policies Ryan layed out in the battleground state of Ohio. Catholics United Executive Director James Salt accused the congressman of out-right pandering.
"From staging after-hours photo opportunities in closed food pantries in Youngstown to this re-tooled stump speech on serving the poorest in Cleveland, it's clear Rep. Ryan needs to seriously examine what his faith teaches about serving those on the margins when the swing state cameras aren't rolling," Salt said. "It's important to remember the budget proposals he wrote in Washington cynically cut major funding to the very institutions he visits and claims are vital to protecting the powerless."
The latest Fox News poll out of the Buckeye state show the race tightening here, with President Obama ahead of Governor Romney by just 3 points. No Republican has ever been elected president without winning Ohio.