Mitt Romney's new running mate Paul Ryan will defend his stance on Medicare during a visit to the Tampa area this weekend, the Romney campaign said Monday.
The comments came in response to news reports about Ryan's absence from Romney's appearances Monday in Florida, and suggestions that Ryan's Medicare and Social Security proposals could be a problem for the Romney-Ryan ticket in Florida.
The Romney campaign insists it's ready to debate the subject in Florida as well as the rest of the nation.
But Democrats still leapt on the subject, staging a "Middle Class Under the Bus Tour" with a Tampa stop Monday in answer to Romney's "Plan for a Stronger Middle Class Bus Tour."
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who is national Democratic Party chairman, made stops in Miami, Boca Raton and Tampa flanked by a congresswoman from Ryan's home state of Wisconsin and a state legislator from Romney's home, Massachusetts.
She said both Romney and Ryan "have proposed massive tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires while throwing middle class Americans under the bus."
Florida is "apparently … a no-fly zone" for Ryan, she said of his absence from Romney's events in St. Augustine and Miami. A midday stop in Orlando was cancelled.
Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., called her colleague Ryan "a nice guy with nice manners (who) even won the best-looking member of Congress contest a couple of times," but said his Medicare proposal would "send our seniors out into the private sector at the tender mercies of the insurance companies."
Ryan appeared with Romney on Saturday and Sunday in Virginia and North Carolina but peeled off as the tour came to Florida, heading instead for the Iowa state fair. The campaign said the two split up to cover more territory.
Ryan will be back Saturday; local supporters said he plans a fundraiser in Treasure Island.
The campaign's promise that he'll talk about Medicare suggests that he'll also do one or more public events, but spokesman Jeff Bechdel didn't provide any details Monday.
"He plans to address Medicare directly" while in Tampa, said Bechdel.
Bechdel cited Ryan's comments on Medicare in his 60 Minutes interview Sunday: "My mom is a Medicare senior in Florida. Our point is we need to preserve their benefits because government made promises to them that they've organized their retirements around.
"In order to make sure we can do that, you must reform it for those of us who are younger. And we think these reforms are good reforms, that have bipartisan origins. They started from the Clinton commission in the late '90s."
Any problem with older voters over Medicare and Social Security could be a big problem for Romney in Florida.
About 31 percent of Florida registered voters are over 60, and about 19 percent over 65.
A recent AARP poll showed Romney leading Obama 46-44 percent among Florida voters over 50, a lead less than the poll's error margin. Romney may need a bigger margin — in 2008, McCain beat Obama 53-45 percent among 65-plus Floridians, but narrowly lost the state.
Republicans note that Sen. Marco Rubio won the 2010 Florida race making essentially the same argument Ryan makes about the elderly entitlement programs: Opposing revision of the programs means destroying them because of financial deficits.
Wasserman Schultz responded, "There's no way you could say that Marco Rubio's election was a referendum on the approach to shoring up Medicare."
She said the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, has already improved the solvency of Medicare, and, "You don't have to shred the safety net … to make sure we can shore it up for future generations."