HIGH POINT, N.C. (AP) — Cheered by the biggest crowds of his campaign, Republican Mitt Romney declared Sunday that 42-year-old running mate Paul Ryan is ready to be president, but said his own budget plan, not the more detailed proposals of his partner, will be the basis of his White House bid.
"I have my budget plan," he said. "And that's the budget plan we're going to run on."
Earlier, Romney walked a careful line as he campaigned with Ryan by his side in North Carolina, singling out his running mate's work "to make sure we can save Medicare." But the presidential candidate never said whether he embraced Ryan's austere plan himself, and he addressed the matter more directly in a "60 Minutes" interview, with Ryan still with him, that aired Sunday night on CBS.
Democrats weren't about to let them off that hook.
President Barack Obama, attending campaign fundraisers Sunday in Chicago, tagged Ryan as the "ideological leader" of the Republican Party.
"He is a decent man, he is a family man, he is an articulate spokesman for Gov. Romney's vision but it is a vision that I fundamentally disagree with," Obama said in his first public comments about Ryan's selection.
Senior Obama adviser David Axelrod and other aides spent Sunday trying to brand Ryan's budget "the Ryan-Romney plan."
During the Republican primary, Romney had called Ryan's budget a "bold and exciting effort" that was "very much needed."
Ryan proposed to reshape the long-standing entitlement by setting up a voucher-like system to let future retirees shop for private health coverage or choose the traditional program — a plan that independent budget analysts say would probably mean smaller increases in benefits than current law would provide.
Romney and Ryan, in their first joint television interview Sunday, were clearly mindful that some of Ryan's proposals don't sit well with key constituencies, among them seniors in critical states like Florida and Ohio. Each man sought to reassure older voters they wouldn't take away their benefits, with Ryan saying his mother is "a Medicare senior in Florida" and Romney vowing there would be "no changes" for seniors currently counting on the popular federal program.
"In America, the nature of this country has been giving people more freedom, more choices," Romney said. "That's how we make Medicare work down the road."
Romney praised his running mate for his policy depth and analytical skills and said if they should win the election, Ryan will surely be consulted in big decisions — "along with other individuals." He added: "Obviously I have to make the final call in important decisions."
The presumptive presidential nominee said Ryan, "if it were necessary, could become president." And Romney extolled his running mate's Washington experience, despite having criticized primary rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum for their years in the nation's capital.
Ryan said he planned to release two years of personal tax returns to the public. The wealthy Romney is also releasing two years of returns, despite pressure from Democrats and some Republicans to provide more information about how he manages his millions.
Romney's selection of Ryan has jolted the presidential contest, until now one that had done little to draw the public's attention, and set the contours for the fall campaign: Romney as a proponent of a friendlier business climate seeking to revitalize the economy and rein in federal spending and Obama casting himself as a defender of middle-class families and federal spending on health care, retirement pensions and education.
The running mate pick also shifted the campaign debate, at least temporarily, to the pressing economic challenges facing the country — a debate both Romney and Obama have said they wanted to have even as the dialogue had spiraled into nasty, personal attacks. Sunday was a marked departure from the previous week, when the race for the White House devolved into name-calling and accusations of lying from both campaigns.
Three months from Election Day, polls find Obama with a narrow lead over Romney, though the race remains tight in key battleground states. And while Ryan's selection raised the role of government spending and Medicare in the election, the fundamentals of the campaign remained unchanged: a race defined by a weak economy and high unemployment, measured most recently at 8.3 percent in July.
Romney, seeking to pull his campaign out of a summer slump, appeared to relish in campaigning alongside the youthful and energetic Ryan.
"This is Day Two for me," a gleeful Romney told a campaign rally in Moorseville, N.C. "This is Day Two on our comeback tour to get America strong again, to rebuild the promise of America." He meant a comeback for the country, but that could apply as well to his campaign.