TAMPA (AP) - Paul Ryan strode confidently into the political spotlight Wednesday night, introducing himself to the nation as Mitt Romney's running mate and issuing a plea to voters facing what he called a crucial choice for the nation's future.
Criticizing President Barack Obama for an agenda that he said is long on spending and rising deficits while producing too few results, Ryan told the Republican National Convention that the country can't wait to make critical changes to government.
"Before the math and the momentum overwhelm us all, we are going to solve this nation's economic problems," Ryan said, describing Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, as a man whose "whole life has prepared him for this moment - to meet serious challenges in a serious way, without excuses and idle words."
"I'm going to level with you: We don't have that much time," Ryan said. "But if we are serious, and smart, and we lead, we can do this."
He said Romney's plan will generate 12 million jobs over the next four years and restrict federal spending - though he didn't explain how.
Until a few weeks ago, the seven-term congressman was little known outside Washington, Wisconsin (where his district is) and the political world. Then Romney selected him as his vice presidential candidate, generating excitement among libertarian and tea party conservatives who had embraced Ryan's proposed fiscal remedies.
He called his selection "an unxpected turn," but quickly warmed to the crowd, which rose to its feet as he said, "We have suffered no shortage of words from the White House. What is missing is leadership in the White House."
He summed up his fiscal policy this way: "We need to stop spending money we don't have."
The address capped the second night of an abbreviated, three-day national convention, its climax coming tonight as Romney delivers his nomination acceptance speech and begins the general campaign against President Barack Obama in earnest. Ryan was the final scheduled speaker in a Wednesday session that included U.S. Sen. John x McCain of Arizona, the GOP presidential nominee in 2008, as well as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Paul's performance was expected to be watched closely, especially since he represents a libertarian movement that has, at times, severely challenged more mainstream Republicans. His father, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, still had many vocal supporters in Tampa for his ultimately unsuccessful race to become the presidential nominee.
Sen. Paul said Republicans, too, "must admit, not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well spent" to mixed applause, before going on to carp about Democratic policies.
McCain said Romney is the man to make American strong on the international stage. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who also had been on the short list of potential vice presidential candidates, joked that, apparently "the list wasn't short enough," before concentrating on Romney's record of success as a businessman.
"We want a president who operates at business speed not government speed," said Portman. Ryan focused on the task at hand for the Party - pumping up Romney and unseating an incumbent Democratic president.
Since Ryan was announced as Romney's running mate Aug. 11, Democrats have been quick to tie Romney to Ryan's own much publicized budget plan, one Democrats have criticized repeatedly for offering set-amount vouchers to future senior citizens as a way to keep Medicare solvent. Budget analysts said Ryan's earlier plan could lead to seniors spending thousands of dollars from their own pockets to pay for health insurance - though a newer plan has since been offered.
Back in Michigan on Wednesday, the state Democratic Party tried to link Republican U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra with "Ryan's plan to dismantle Medicare," an example of how Ryan's addition to the ticket has been used against some local candidates.
But Romney, Ryan and the leaders of the Republican Party - at least many of those onstage in Tampa - have indicated they are prepared to take their argument for entitlement reform to the people, saying spending in Washington has gotten out of control and it is the only way to save Medicare for the future.
"Mitt Romney and I know the difference between protecting a program, and raiding it," said Ryan. "Ladies and gentlemen, our nation needs this debate. We want this debate. We will win this debate." Ryan, 42, of Janesville, Wis., reminded the audience of Obama's remarks in Janesville in 2008 that, with government support, a General Motors plant there would "be here for another hundred years." It closed before the year was out - and before Obama became president.
"It is locked up and empty to this day," said Ryan.
He spoke about the costs associated with the health care legislation Obama signed into law in 2010, saying it "comes to more than 2,000 pages of rules, mandates, taxes, fees and fines that have no place in a free country."
Ryan also continued a theme of reaching out to women, invoking the story of his mother, Betty Ryan, earning a degree and starting a small business at age 50 after his father died.
"It wasn't just a new livelihood," he said. "It was a new life. ... To this day, my mom is my role model."
She was in the arena and stood and accepted the applause from those in the hall.
U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers of Brighton, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was standing outside the convention hall Wednesday afternoon just as Ryan - chairman of the House Budget Committee - drove by in a gold SUV and gave Rogers a big thumbs-up.
"No one is better prepared than him," said Rogers, adding that he talked to Ryan by phone earlier this week. He said it would be an exciting time for anyone "but this hasn't changed him a bit," Rogers said. "His wonky charm will attract people."
And, Republicans hope, energize a base that was slow to embrace Romney. Ryan's fiscal conservatism and libertarian streak already has attracted tea party support.
Del Chenault, director of governmental affairs for the Lansing law firm Clark Hill, said Ryan reminds him of former Govs. John Engler of Michigan and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin.
"They cleared the way for politicians like him, helping get big things done like welfare reform under Bill Clinton," he said. "Ryan is the next generation of conservative leader with the very same Midwestern, conservative fiscal policies."
With a Romney and Ryan administration, the same types of bold reforms can happen, Chenault added.