With bay waters glistening behind him, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan said Saturday that he and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would reverse four years of "debt, doubt and decline" by improving the economy, preserving Medicare and strengthening the nation's defense.
"This is no ordinary election. This is no ordinary time," Ryan told several thousand people at R.E. Olds Park. "We're not picking who's going to be president for the next four years, we are choosing a path. We are choosing what kind of country we want to be, and what kind of people we want to be."
It was a relatively safe, 20-minute address by Romney's running mate, who the day before had blistered President Barack Obama on abortion rights and unrest in the Middle East in an address to the Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C.
Returning to the Tampa area weeks after his party's national convention, Ryan — and speakers before him — reminded the crowd how significant the Interstate 4 corridor will be in the coming election.
"Florida, you have a huge say-so in this," he said. "I think you realize how important your state is to the future of our country."
And Ryan played to the Florida crowd, vowing to preserve Medicare and bashing the Affordable Care Act championed by Obama.
"The biggest threat to Medicare is Obamacare, and we are going to get rid of this threat to Medicare by repealing Obamacare."
Ryan again said that Obama's health plan would siphon $700 billion from Medicare, an assertion he consistently has made on the stump, but one that political fact-checking organizations have challenged.
"Medicare should not be used as a piggybank for Obamacare," Ryan said.
He called the Federal Reserve's recent decision to buy more mortgage bonds to boost the economy a "new bailout."
"The Federal Reserve is basically saying that we don't have a recovery, 'Obamanomics' didn't work, so now they're coming with their bailout," Ryan said.
"Here's the problem with that: We don't need sugar-high economics. We don't need synthetic money creation. We need economic growth," he said.
Ryan largely sidestepped the controversy that top-ticket Romney created in criticizing Obama for emboldening extremists who have attacked U.S. embassies in the Middle East.
But he indirectly brought up the crisis for a Ronald Reaganesque jab at the Obama administration on national security.
"We turn on the TV and we see what's going on," Ryan said. "If there's one thing this reminds me (of), it's that peace through strength works. We need a strong military. We need a strong national security. If we project weakness, they come. If we are strong, our adversaries will not test us and our allies will respect us."
He said the country should develop its own energy — "coal, gas, oil, all of the above — to get to energy independence.
But this election, he said, is about more than the issues he touched on in his speech. "It's not just about jobs, it's not just about national defense, it's not just about saving Medicare. It's about saving the American idea," Ryan said.
"We are not going to try to transform this country into something it was never intended to be. We are not going to replace our founding principles. We're going to reapply our founding principles."
Ryan was introduced by Attorney General Pam Bondi, and a parade of local and national Republicans shared the microphone.
State Rep. James Grant of Tampa was among those reminding the crowd of the significance of Central Florida in November.
"You live in an area that will decide this election," he said.
Ryan's remarks resonated with Larry Jensen, who said after the speech that his company, Joule Yacht Transport of Clearwater, is struggling with the downturn in boat manufacturing and high gas prices.
"We need a change, and it has to happen now," he said. "There's so much regulation right now. It's making it so difficult for us to do anything. Everything costs so much more."