CLEVELAND, Ohio (AP) - Mitt Romney's presidential campaign is trying to stay on the offensive in the increasingly heated debate over the future of Medicare.
Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, signaled Wednesday that they invite scrutiny of their plans for the health care program that affects tens of millions of seniors. Such a focus would thrust the budget proposal Ryan authored - which included a controversial measure to transform Medicare into a voucher-like system - into the center of the race for the White House.
"We want this debate. We need this debate. And we will win this debate," Ryan told supporters at an Ohio rally Wednesday.
The Republican budget architect will take that message to Ohio voters for a second consecutive day Thursday. He is scheduled to attend a rally in North Canton before traveling to Virginia. Romney is expected to attend a series of private fundraisers, while Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are in Washington for official business.
The debate comes as Romney's campaign continues an effort to undermine one of Obama's greatest campaign strengths, his personal likability, trying to portray the outwardly calm Obama as a man seething with animosity and power lust.
Romney on Wednesday charged that Obama's campaign is fueled by "division and attack and hatred."
To help make their case, Romney's campaign is highlighting a recent Biden remark that prompted some critics to suggest the vice president was using racial undertones to gain a political advantage.
Commenting in response to Republican criticism that the Obama administration had sought to regulate Wall Street too tightly, Biden told a Virginia crowd that included hundreds of black supporters that the GOP wanted to "unchain Wall Street." He added, "They're going to put y'all back in chains."
In an interview with People magazine Wednesday, Obama defended Biden, saying his running mate's only meaning was that consumers won't be protected if Wall Street reforms are repealed.
"In no sense was he trying to connote something other than that," Obama said.
The president wrapped up a three-day bus tour through Iowa on Wednesday, devoting attention to the state that helped launch his bid for the White House four years ago. Joined by first lady Michelle Obama on the trail for the first time in months, Obama defended his handling of Medicare.
"They start making up all kinds of stuff about my plans," Obama said at a rally in Davenport, saying he worked to strengthen Medicare without undercutting benefits. Of Romney and Ryan's approach, Obama said, "Their plan ends Medicare as we know it."
Ryan on Wednesday accused the president of trying to "raid" Medicare by cutting more than $716 billion from the program as part of his health care overhaul.
Ryan did not mention that his own congressional budget proposal includes the same savings, which are supposed to be realized through lower payments to hospitals and doctors, and greater efficiencies in the program.
The president planned to spend Thursday in Washington, holding meetings with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner along with his weekly lunch with Biden. Obama returns to the campaign trail Saturday, holding rallies in New Hampshire.
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