OLDSMAR — In his first public speech in the Tampa Bay area as the Republican vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan skewered President Barack Obama's economic policies and derided last week's stimulus effort by the Federal Reserve as "a new bailout."
"We don't need sugar-high economics. We don't need synthetic money creation," he told a couple thousand people gathered at the waterfront pavilion at R.E. Olds Park on Saturday. "We need economic growth. We want wealth creation."
Mitt Romney's running mate focused his 20-minute speech largely on the economy, saying Obama "made things worse" after inheriting a historic recession. He aimed some of his toughest remarks at the Federal Reserve's new plan to spend $40 billion a month to buy mortgage bonds to try to keep interest rates low.
"One of the most insidious things a government can do to its people is to debase its currency," he said.
As protests continued throughout the Middle East, Ryan spent only a few minutes on foreign policy, paying tribute to the four Americans killed at the U.S. consulate in Libya last week. Unlike Romney, who directly criticized Obama's reaction to the attacks, Ryan spoke in broad terms about maintaining a strong national defense.
"If we project weakness, they come," said Ryan, a 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman in his seventh term. "If we are strong, our adversaries will not test us and our allies will respect us."
Ryan wore a black polo and khakis as he spoke to the audience, many clad in patriotic garb and shaking pompoms. He came on stage to AC/DC's Rock 'n' Roll Train after an introduction by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi.
He was joined by his wife, Janna, and mother, Betty Douglas, who lives in Lauderdale-by-the Sea. He spoke while surrounded by a little white picket fence and shrubs.
The afternoon heat took a toll on the crowd, as a couple of dozen people sought attention from EMTs for heat-related illnesses, and at least two people were taken to the hospital for further treatment.
The rally is the latest in a series of high-profile campaign stops in Tampa Bay and across the state, underscoring the importance of Florida's 29 electoral votes.
Obama is scheduled to visit Tampa on Thursday, after holding a rally a week ago in Seminole. First Lady Michelle Obama will speak in Gainesville and Tallahassee on Monday. "Explainer in chief" Bill Clinton made stops in Florida last week, and Mitt Romney's wife, Ann, appeared in Largo.
Many speakers on Saturday emphasized Florida's must-win status for Republicans, but a NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released last week showed Obama leading Romney in the state by 5 points.
Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, who spoke before Ryan, took it a step further, calling Pinellas County the "anchor" of the all-important Interstate 4 corridor of swing voters.
"Florida's a big deal," said George Silverman, 69, a Largo retiree who was enjoying some shade before the rally began. "You just hope it goes to the right."
Ryan is a rock star for the Republican faithful and has helped Romney shore up the conservative base. That includes many who were skeptical of the health care law Romney signed as governor of Massachusetts.
"I turned around when they picked Paul Ryan," said Lynn Lee, 51, of St. Petersburg, who supported Herman Cain during the primary. "To me, Paul Ryan, at least he's willing to make a plan."
Not everyone agreed with every Ryan talking point. Brian Quimby, 32, a Westchase financial adviser who leans libertarian, said he understood the rationale behind the Federal Reserve's decision.
"If they don't do something, you could destroy market confidence," he said.
Ryan is best known as the architect of the Republican budget that was adopted by the U.S. House but rejected in the Senate. Romney has praised the plan but said he will formulate his own budget if elected.
But Democrats see opportunity for attack in the austere budget. They argue the plan would turn Medicare into a voucher system where seniors have to supplement their health care costs.
"The dirty secret that you will not hear Congressman Ryan talk about today is they go to a voucher Medicare (system) in order to give additional tax breaks to the wealthiest people across the country," U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, said in a brief interview before Ryan spoke.
Ryan welcomed the Medicare debate, saying Democrats are also hiding the truth. "Here's the dirty little secret about Medicare they don't want you to know," he said. "The biggest threat to Medicare is Obamacare."
Ryan was referring to the health care law's $716 billion in reduced payments to insurers and hospitals over 10 years to help pay for new benefits such as coverage for the uninsured.
While Ryan mostly stayed away from foreign policy, speaker after speaker before him went after Obama's handling of the Muslim world's protests. U.S. Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young, R-Indian Shores, even called him the "apologizer in chief."
"I can tell you when Mitt Romney makes his first trip, it will not be a trip of apology," Young said.
Young repeated a widespread but misleading attack about Obama's 2009 foreign tour. During his speech at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Romney earned a Pants on Fire rating from PolitiFact for saying Obama "began his presidency with an apology tour."
Ryan said Obama has no one to blame but himself for the still-sputtering economy.
"We're not going to spend the next four years blaming everything on everybody else. We're going to take responsibility," Ryan said. "We are not going to try and transform this country into something it was never intended to be."