By Michael Finnegan, Los Angeles Times –
LIMA, Ohio — Republican vice presidential hopeful Paul D. Ryan opened an Ohio campaign swing on Monday by hammering President Barack Obama over the Pentagon’s proposed suspension of tank production at a plant that has long provided high-paying jobs in this struggling region of the Rust Belt.
The Wisconsin congressman told hundreds of Republicans at a veterans’ hall that Obama’s “only eagerness to cut spending” was on national defense. He blasted the president for proposing federal budgets that included the Army’s proposed mothballing of the Lima tank plant.
“If we keep showing that the only thing we want to do is gut our military, that projects weakness abroad,” Ryan said. “And by projecting weakness abroad, our adversaries are so much more tempted to test us, and our allies are so much less willing to trust us.”
Ryan named Israel as an example of an ally grown wary, thanks to Obama.
“We need peace through strength,” Ryan said, borrowing a phrase that President Ronald Reagan used in his 1980 campaign to unseat President Jimmy Carter during the Iranian hostage crisis.
Ryan’s remarks came as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was trying to recover from a series of campaign stumbles by attacking Obama’s handling of affairs in the Middle East.
Ryan’s casting of the Republican ticket as champions of local manufacturing also coincides with Romney’s struggle to overcome Obama’s polling edge in Ohio, where the 2009 auto industry bailout has won the president a strong base of support despite the overall sluggishness of the economic recovery. Hanging above the bleachers in the veterans’ hall as Ryan spoke was a banner that read: “We Need A Real Recovery.”
The Lima tank plant is owned by the federal government and run by a contractor, General Dynamics. It employs about 850 people in production of the M1 Abrams tank and armored Stryker vehicles.
The Pentagon wants to halt production of the tank for several years as military spending declines, but Ohio lawmakers have succeeded, so far, in restoring funding.
Romney and Ryan have called for sharp federal spending cuts, but have carved out an exception for defense, which their campaign advisors hope will produce political dividends in places such as Lima.
In response to Ryan’s remarks, Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said the congressman had “repeatedly authored and voted for automatic defense cuts.”
“But this time, the only thing ensuring that these cuts will become reality is Mitt Romney and Congressman Ryan’s opposition to asking for a penny more from millionaires and billionaires,” Kanner said.
Ryan’s visit to Lima opened three days of campaigning by him and Romney in Ohio. After a stop Tuesday morning in Cincinnati, Ryan plans to join Romney at an airport rally outside Dayton. On Wednesday, Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo are on Romney’s itinerary.
Obama, too, plans to campaign Wednesday in Ohio in the Toledo and Columbus areas, with rallies at the Bowling Green and Kent state university campuses.
An Ohio Newspaper Organization Survey released over the weekend found Obama leading Romney among likely voters in Ohio, 51 percent to 46 percent.