Thin Lizzy's hit The Boys Are Back in Town blared as Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan bounded onto stage together Tuesday. • The crowd in southwest Ohio roared, and for a moment it was easy to recall the excitement and optimism that greeted Romney's decision to name the youthful, wonky Wisconsin congressman his running mate. Conservative activists and pundits alike hailed the selection back in August as a bold choice sure to elevate the presidential campaign into a sharp debate about bold ideas and starkly different visions.
Six weeks later, that still hasn't happened.
"I will restore the principles that the founders described when they wrote the Declaration of Independence. The foundation of our nation said that our rights did not come from government; our rights came from God himself,'' Romney thundered to the crowd of several thousand.
"And among those rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness!"
Not exactly a bold, new vision for the future.
Tuesday's joint appearance, the first time Romney, 65, and Ryan, 42, have appeared together since right after the Republican National Convention in Tampa, kicked off a three-day bus tour through the crucial battleground of Ohio. The rally follows a week of bad poll numbers for Romney in several swing states along with calls by prominent conservatives to retool his campaign.
The candidate and the running mate young enough to be his telegenic son showed plenty of fire before an enthusiastic crowd that waited hours to see them on a chilly, drizzly day.
When the crowd chanted "Romney! Romney!", the nominee corrected them: "Romney-Ryan! Romney-Ryan!"
But there were none of the big, audacious ideas that had been anticipated when Romney brought on board the House budget chief known for substance and a willingness to tackle to thorniest issues, particularly entitlement reform.
The GOP ticket on Tuesday broadly promised to improve schools, help small businesses, fight military spending cuts, increase domestic energy production and cut the deficit.
Mostly, though, they talked about how weak Obama has been at fixing the economy.
"After four years of getting the run-around, what America needs is a turn-around. And this is the man who knows how to do turn-arounds," Ryan said, motioning to Romney.
No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio, which has 18 of the 270 electorate votes needed to win and which is starting to look like a reach for Romney. Recent polls have shown Obama leading in Ohio by anywhere from 4 percentage points to 8 points.
"He needs to tell us what the plan is — what he wants to do," Rick Needels, a retired salesman from Dayton, said of Romney.
Amid the enthusiasm among the supporters gathered to see the Republican ticket Tuesday, was plenty of pessimism about Romney's prospects.
"Romney's being too nice. He's a nice guy — we get it — but we're trying to fix the country. He needs to be less timid," said Phil Harris, a 47-year-old maintenance worker in a Don't Tread on Me T-shirt.
Several people said they expected Ryan to have a more vocal role in the campaign, particularly in making the case for how Romney-Ryan would curb federal spending.
"I'd like Paul Ryan to have a higher profile. He's so smart and charismatic, and I don't think Romney's fierce enough. He needs to be tougher on Obama,'' said Cathy Manning, a retired letter carrier. "I'm worried about the debate — not about Ryan's but about Romney's."
Republican fans of Ryan lately have been grumbling that he has been too restrained since joining the Romney campaign, arguing that the Boston-based campaign should give him more free reign to weigh in on meaty policy debates.
"I was enthused when Mitt Romney picked Paul Ryan because I thought that was a signal that this guy was getting serious, he was getting bold," Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said in a radio interview Friday. "I just haven't seen that kind of passion I know that Paul has transferred over to our nominee."
Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]