WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama's campaign is launching state-specific efforts to target elements of Paul Ryan's austere budget proposals, expanding beyond its opposition to the Republican vice presidential candidate's Medicare overhaul.
The Democratic campaign is mobilizing its vast network of staffers and volunteers in key states to highlight Ryan's proposals to cut funding for veterans care, clean energy and education — and link presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney directly to them. Democrats say those cuts would be just as damaging as Ryan's proposed overhaul of Medicare, the popular federal health care program that serves tens of millions of seniors.
The Obama strategy comes as Romney and Ryan make clear they plan to campaign aggressively on Medicare, not run away from it. In person and in a television ad, the Republicans argued Tuesday that Obama is the one who cut spending for Medicare to put money toward his divisive health care overhaul.
In states with large military and veteran populations — Florida, Ohio and Virginia among them — the Obama campaign plans to attack Ryan's proposed cuts for veterans' benefits and care, a campaign official said. The official was not authorized to discuss the campaign strategy publicly and requested anonymity.
In Colorado, Ohio and Iowa, the campaign sees opportunities to capitalize on Ryan's proposed cuts to clean energy industries that are taking hold in those states. The Obama team will argue that cutting those investments would essentially cede new energy technologies — and the jobs that could come with them — to countries like China, the official said.
In Nevada and several other states, the campaign plans to push the impact of Ryan's budget on education, citing estimates that it would cut 200,000 children a year from Head Start, an early education program, and reduce Pell grants for 10 million college students.
The campaign launched an ad Tuesday in five states — Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia — that links Romney directly to the Ryan budget's impact on college grants.
Obama's team may launch other paid advertising on elements of Ryan's budget soon. But for now, the campaign is focused on getting its message out in local media and directly to voters through its ample grass-roots network, which still trumps Romney's ground game in some states.
Despite ramping up new areas of attack, Obama's campaign is still eager to link Romney to Ryan's Medicare proposals, both on the national level and in battleground states with a significant number of voters over the age of 65, including Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Pennsylvania.
The president's pollsters wrote in a campaign memo that Ryan's Medicare proposals are a "game changer" in Florida, the battleground state with the most electoral votes up for grabs in November.
Romney launched a strong Medicare counterattack Tuesday, accusing Obama of having "raided" $716 billion from the Medicare trust fund.
"And you know what he did with it? He's used it to pay for Obamacare, a risky, unproven federal takeover of health care. And If I'm president of the United States, we're putting the $716 billion back," Romney said at a campaign stop in Beallsville, Ohio, as he neared the end of a multistate bus trip that began with his weekend selection of a running mate.
Romney's campaign also released a commercial Tuesday containing the same allegation that began airing immediately in several battleground states, although officials declined to provide details.
Ryan, interviewed on Fox News Channel, said he and Romney believe Medicare can be a winning issue for Republicans in the fall. "Absolutely, because we're the ones who are offering a plan to save Medicare, to protect Medicare, to strengthen Medicare," he said.
Ryan didn't say so, but the budgets he has written in the House both called for leaving in place the cuts to Medicare that he is now criticizing. Romney has consistently favored restoring the funds, and his running mate said, "I joined the Romney ticket."
Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner criticized Ryan's answers, calling the Wisconsin congressman "not ready for prime time."
"First, he attacked the president for the very same Medicare savings that he includes in his own budget," Kanner said in a statement. "In the same breath, he falsely claimed that the Romney-Ryan budget protects Medicare — in fact, their plan would end Medicare as we know it, leaving seniors with nothing but a voucher in place of the guaranteed benefits they rely on today."
The Obama campaign released a web video Wednesday that declares Romney and Ryan "plan to end Medicare as we know it." It features news commentators and liberal analysts such as economist Paul Krugman declaring that Ryan's House Republican budget would mean millions of older Americans would be unable to afford health care.
The video declares that Romney has lied about Obama's record on Medicare, and says Obama's proposal cuts payments to Medicare providers but offers more benefits to Medicare participants.
Romney and the Republican National Committee planned to release a new Spanish language TV ad Wednesday highlighting Obama's economic policies. Romney's campaign didn't say where it would run or how much money they plan to spend on the spot.
Obama was campaigning in Iowa on Wednesday, the final day of his three-day bus trip through the Midwestern swing state. First lady Michelle Obama was joining the president, marking their first joint appearance on the campaign trail since May.
Romney wrapped up his own bus tour Tuesday, closing the trip with a sweeping indictment of Obama's campaign. "Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago," he said in Chillicothe, Ohio, insisting that Obama had abandoned his 2008 campaign's messages of hope and change. The Obama campaign said Romney's comments seemed "unhinged."
Romney planned to attend campaign fundraisers Wednesday in North Carolina and Alabama. Ryan, a day after meeting privately with Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson in Las Vegas, was campaigning Wednesday in Ohio. He'll attend a rally at Miami University in Oxford, where he earned his undergraduate degree.
Vice President Joe Biden is campaigning at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.
Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt in Columbus, Ohio, and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.