BRANDON — Republicans need not be cowed by the prospect of taking on Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016, said U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, one of the leading Republican contenders to do just that.
"She's very formidable. She'll raise a lot money, she has a lot of name ID," the Wisconsin native and former Republican vice presidential nominee said during a stop in Tampa Bay to promote his new book. "But I think Hillary Clinton is very beatable because a Hillary Clinton presidency is basically the same thing as an Obama third term. I don't think she'll be able to shake that."
Despite only a few dozen people showing up to his book signing at Books-A-Million in Brandon on Sunday, the 44-year-old House budget chief managed to project the upbeat and optimistic attitude he prescribes in his new book, The Way Forward, which is part memoir and part manifesto for how the GOP can win national majorities again.
"We need to be that happy warrior inclusive party that appeals to people based on their common humanity, based on their aspirations, based on opportunity and growth. That means we have to take this message everywhere to all communities and show people why our ideas are better for them and their families," Ryan said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
There is no sign that Ryan is veering away from his longtime advocacy for cutting spending on programs that benefit middle- and lower-income Americans while reducing taxes for wealthier Americans. President Barack Obama hammered him and presidential nominee Mitt Romney for that approach during the 2012 campaign, but Ryan contends the party can still broaden its tent and diversify its support without compromising on core conservative ideas.
That includes making the fight against poverty a top priority.
"We have an obligation to have smarter and more effective ways of fighting poverty given that we are losing the war on poverty 50 years into it," said Ryan, who stopped at nine bookstores in north and central Florida over three days to promote his 304-page volume. "The point is to attack the status quo and to have a different approach to fighting poverty and totally reorienting the federal government's role."
Unlike other 2016 prospects, such as Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ryan has not been assembling a team of likely presidential advisers and says he will not decide about running until 2015. The decision will be based on his family and the field of candidates, he said.
Clinton is the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic nomination if she runs, while the Republican field is much more competitive. The average of recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie drawing 11.5 percent support, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush 10.8 percent, Paul 10.3 percent, Ryan 9.3 percent, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz 8.8 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry 8.3 percent and Rubio 7.5 percent.
Asked about the Florida GOP heavyweights, Ryan said Bush and Rubio are "absolutely cream of the crop, top-tier leaders who would make great candidates or presidents."
He and Rubio have been mutual admirers since early 2010 when Ryan became the first U.S. House leader to endorse Rubio for U.S. Senate over then-Republican Charlie Crist.
"The party was upset because Crist was their backed guy," but after meeting with both candidates, Ryan said it was clear Rubio was "head and shoulders above" Crist.
Democrats had promised protesters at every Ryan book-signing stop, but the only hint of that in Brandon occurred when Wesley Chapel resident Ray McCullough, 61, handed Ryan a book to sign and asked him about plans to cut retirement benefits for seniors.
Ryan assured him he is not advocating any cuts for people close to or currently in retirement.
Contact Adam C. Smith at email@example.com. Follow @adamsmithtimes.