GREENVILLE, N.C. — As Democrats prepare to arrive in Charlotte for their national convention, Paul Ryan paid a visit to East Carolina University in this college town four hours away Monday afternoon to argue that the country is worse off now than it was before President Obama took office.
Taking the stage to AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top,” Ryan told a cheering crowd of more than 2,000 at ECU’s student recreation center, “Friends, there’s a little gathering going on over in Charlotte. We know that your governor’s over there, your lieutenant governor. We also know that President Obama’s over there.”
Ryan pointed to North Carolina’s 9.6 percent unemployment rate, the fifth-highest in the country, as he argued that Obama “has no record to run on.”
“He can’t tell you that you’re better off,” Ryan said. “Simply put, the Jimmy Carter years look like the good old days compared to where we are now.”
The Labor Day campaign stop marks Ryan’s third solo campaign event in North Carolina since Mitt Romney tapped him as his running mate last month. It comes ahead of the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, where Republicans are planning to aggressively counter-program the Democratic confab with a message echoing the one Ryan delivered here on Monday.
The Obama campaign responded by accusing Romney and Ryan of supporting “the same failed scheme that devastated the middle class in the first place.”
“It’s no surprise that America’s Go Back Team is spending their time waxing nostalgic about how things were three decades ago,” Obama spokesman Danny Kanner said in a statement. “The truth is that under the president’s leadership, we’ve gone from losing 800,000 jobs a month to adding 4.5 million jobs over the last 29 months of private sector job growth.”
A long line of supporters were gathered outside Ryan’s venue in the midday heat shortly before it got underway. After Ryan addressed the main hall, he spoke to two separate groups — one awaiting him outside, and another inside an auditorium.
Outside the venue, Ryan stood on the back of a campus police truck and delivered a similar message, blaming Obama for the state’s high unemployment rate.
“It’s not a record he’s going to brag about in Charlotte,” he said to laughter from the crowd.
Introducing Ryan onstage in Greenville was GOP gubernatorial nominee Pat McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte, who, like Ryan, argued that Democrats will be playing defense at this week’s convention.
“Can you imagine what they’re going to say in Charlotte?” he asked the crowd. “Are they going to defend Obamacare? Are they going to defend the failed stimulus? Are they going to defend that North Carolina has the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country?”
McCrory also vouched for Ryan by noting that his own parents were born in Wisconsin.
“Wisconsin values are very similar to eastern North Carolina values,” McCrory said. “They love their families. They love their faith. They love people who work hard. That’s Paul Ryan right there. He loves this country like you do right here. He is a man of incredible integrity.”
Some of those in the crowd said they’d waited more than two hours to get into the venue. While Obama won North Carolina by about 14,000 votes in 2008, this time many in the crowd said they believe the momentum is on their side because of Obama’s record and the country’s still-struggling economy.
“I didn’t vote for Obama, but a lot of my friends four years ago did,” said Robyn Martin, a 35-year-old respiratory therapist and registered Republican from Greenville. “I’m not one to say ‘I told you so,’ but there they are and here I am.”
She added that she believed the Democratic Party “has gone so far left — it’s not people like my mom and grandparents grew up with.”
Others in the crowd voiced support for the theory, popular in some conservative circles, that Obama won four years ago because of widespread voter fraud.
“This time, he won’t have 30,000 dead people voting for him. That’s why he won North Carolina,” said Jefferson Garvey, a 42-year-old carpenter and Republican voter from Dover, N.C.
A Raleigh-based group, the Voter Integrity Project, last Friday presented the North Carolina Board of Elections with what it said was a list of nearly 30,000 deceased people who are still registered to vote in the state.
Reports of voter fraud in the 2008 election appear to number only in the hundreds: According to the Charlotte Observer, local district attorneys reported only 261 cases to the state board of elections. Most involved convicted felons voting, the Observer reported.