Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan was greeted with deafening applause and hailed as the face of a new GOP on Wednesday night as he tore into President Barack Obama's policies, casting him as a failure on the economy who is unwilling to make dramatic change.
"Before the math and the momentum overwhelm us all, we are going to solve this nation's economic problems," Ryan vowed, claiming the spotlight at the Republican National Convention two weeks after Mitt Romney named him as his running mate.
Following a series of earnest but mostly flat speeches, Ryan single-handedly energized the crowd. The convention erupted as Ryan took the stage at 10:26 p.m., with delegates jolting out of their seats at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, beaming, whistling and hooting.
Minutes before Ryan's speech, building officials had to turn people away from the floor because it had exceeded capacity. That's the first time since the convention started they had to do that. Delegates stormed away angry.
Ryan, a congressman from Wisconsin, used the platform and a national TV audience to introduce himself to voters and to argue that Republicans offer a better approach than Obama.
"After four years of getting the run-around," he said, "America needs a turnaround, and the man for the job is Gov. Mitt Romney."
Ryan ripped the national health care law, which was based on the plan Romney put in place in Massachusetts while governor there, assailed Obama's record on the economy, his "wasted" stimulus, and said he and Romney had a goal of generating 12 million jobs over the next four years.
By choosing Ryan, Romney got an instant shot of excitement for his campaign, which has struggled to rally conservatives. It happened again Wednesday night.
"For us Floridians, the excitement for Paul Ryan is like we had about Jeb Bush, because we're talking about big ideas again," said Slater Bayliss, a former Bush aide and fundraiser from Tallahassee.
Midway through Ryan's speech, Laura Mills, 21, of Washington began shouting in an attempt to disrupt him. A member of the abortion rights group Code Pink, Mills walked through the upper reaches of the Times Forum carrying a bright pink banner that said, "Vagina — Can't Say it, Don't Legislate it."
She said "an angry Ron Paul person" gave her credentials that enabled her to get inside.
Ryan, only 42, has become one of the nation's leading conservatives, the architect of a sweeping budget proposal that would deeply slash government spending and convert Medicare into a voucher-like program.
"In a city full of people that are there to be someone, Paul Ryan stands out as someone who will do something," said U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who will give a speech tonight introducing Romney.
Romney is hoping voters see him in the same bold light, a leader willing to make tough decisions to fix the country's problems. He left Tampa for a while Wednesday to campaign in Indianapolis and said Obama had "dodged the tough choices."
Ryan's approach carries risks, particularly in a state such as Florida where 51 percent of registered voters are age 50 or older. A Quinnipiac poll last week found that 62 percent of Florida voters, including roughly the same amount of independents, want to keep Medicare as it is.
A Gallup Poll released Wednesday showed Americans have mixed views on Ryan, with 38 percent saying their opinion is favorable, and 36 percent saying it is unfavorable.
The Democratic National Committee paid for a full-page ad in the Tampa Tribune on Wednesday blasting "The Romney-Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it." (Left unsaid is Ryan's proposal would not change Medicare for anyone currently 55 or older.)
Democrats are hoping the Medicare plan and severe budget cuts will give them an advantage in dozens of congressional races and are hammering Republicans for their votes for the Ryan budget, formally called "The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal."
Ryan steered clear of discussing the details of his plan but welcomed the fight.
"Our opponents can consider themselves on notice," he said. "In this election, on this issue, the usual posturing on the left isn't going to work. Mitt Romney and I know the difference between protecting a program, and raiding it. Ladies and gentlemen, our nation needs this debate. We want this debate. We will win this debate."
He got the biggest applause for this dig at Obama: "College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life."
Wednesday night — the second day of a storm-shortened convention — featured blistering attacks on Obama from more than a dozen speakers.
"We have a sluggish economy, burdened by Obama administration policies that are weighing down our job creators," said U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. "Middle-class Americans, in cities and on farms, are bearing the brunt. The big government bureaucrats of the Obama administration have set their sights on our way of life."
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who fought off a Romney challenge four years ago to capture the nomination, went after Obama on foreign policy.
"By committing to withdraw from Afghanistan before peace can be achieved and sustained, the president has discouraged our friends and emboldened our enemies," he said, blasting $500 billion in planned defense budget cuts mandated under a plan passed by Democrats and Republicans.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty mocked Obama with humor. "I've come to realize that Barack Obama is the tattoo president. Like a big tattoo, it seemed cool when you were young. But later on, that decision doesn't look so good, and you wonder, 'What was I thinking?' "
On the short list to be VP instead of Ryan, Pawlenty commanded the stage with a speech that also praised Romney's business experience and optimism: "He has this infectious good cheer about him, something I appreciate and something America needs."
There were nods to Hispanics, with New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, to women with former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and to evangelicals, via Mike Huckabee, who declared, "I care far less as to where (Mormon) Mitt Romney takes his family to church than I do about where he takes this country."
But no one demanded more attention than Ryan, who charmed the crowd by pointing to his photogenic wife and children and cast himself as a small-town guy from Janesville whose iPod playlist "starts with AC/DC, and ends with Zeppelin." And he framed the election as a critical juncture.
"You are entitled to the clearest possible choice because the time for choosing is drawing near," Ryan said. "So here is our pledge. We will not duck the tough issues; we will lead."
Before Ryan appeared, the mood on the convention floor was subdued, even listless.
"He's a mainstream conservative and Romney's a little more moderate. So I think it's a good balance," said Kenneth McMiIllan, 76, a retired probation officer from Baton Rouge, La.
McMillan is enthusiastic for another reason, too: Ryan's age makes the Republican ticket look a lot more youthful than McCain's candidacy four years ago. "When McCain ran against Obama you had the image of a very old man against a very young man," McMillan said. "They don't have that advantage any more."
Penny Boney, 63, who runs a group of family-owned grocery stores in San Diego, said Ryan's expertise on economic policy makes him a huge asset to the Republican ticket.
"It's a very, very serious pick," Boney said. "I was thinking Paul Ryan from the beginning. He had a plan. He has a plan."
John Giotis of Clearwater Beach, pointing to the digit debt clock ticking steadily toward $16 trillion inside the Times Forum and said, "I'm thrilled because that's the number I'm looking at."
Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report.