RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Differences between Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's positions — this time on hot-button social issues — were on display Wednesday as the GOP ticket found itself dragged into a debate over abortion.
The vice presidential candidate emphasized anew that Romney is the nominee, brushing aside differences in their records.
"I'm proud of my record. Mitt Romney's going to be the president and the president sets policy. His policy is exceptions for rape incest and life of the mother. I'm comfortable with it because it's a good step in the right direction," Ryan told reporters as his campaign plane flew from Virginia to North Carolina.
Romney does not oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest or if it will save the mother's life, while Ryan does oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest.
Since choosing Ryan as his running mate, Romney has been dogged by questions about how his own views differ from the Wisconsin congressman's. Ryan is the architect of a controversial budget blueprint that would dramatically change Medicare and cut funds for a series of other popular programs. After his selection Democrats immediately began trying to tie Romney to his new No. 2's plan, with President Barack Obama launching a new push on cuts to education this week. Romney says his own budget plan is different from Ryan's, but he largely refused to outline specifics of the differences. Instead, he's emphasizing what he calls shared principles and insisting that Ryan joined the Romney ticket, and not the other way around.
The focus on abortion comes in the wake of comments from Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Asked in an interview aired Sunday if abortion should be legal in cases of rape, Akin said: "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."
Ryan on Wednesday defended a bill he cosponsored in the House to permanently ban federal funding for abortion except in cases of incest and "forcible" rape. That language, which was eventually changed, would have narrowed the exception for rape victims. Akin and 225 other members of the House, including 11 Democrats, also cosponsored the bill.
Democrats have seized on the bill and accused Ryan of trying to "redefine rape and remove protections for rape victims."
"As a Republican leader in the House, Paul Ryan worked with Todd Akin to try to narrow the definition of rape and outlaw abortion even for rape victims," Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement.
Akin has refused to heed calls to step down — including one from Romney — and now would need a court order to leave the race. He has until Sept. 25 to do so. Aafter that point, he would have no way to remove his name from the ballot.
Ryan, a colleague of Akin's in the House, called the Missouri congressman to urge him to bow out of the Senate race. Ryan said Wednesday he doesn't have any plans to speak to him about it now that Akin is staying in.
"He's going to run his campaign and we're going to run ours," Ryan said of Akin.
The questions about abortion were overshadowing the GOP ticket's campaign events in Iowa, Virginia and North Carolina Wednesday, where Romney was trying to keep the focus on the national debt and deficit.
Romney, speaking hours after the Congressional Budget Office warned of a new recession if Washington continues its stalemate over taxes and spending cuts, criticized Obama for not doing more to solve the country's fiscal problems.
"It's bad economics," he said. "It's the wrong course for America and I believe it's immoral to pass our burdens on to the next generation."
Romney's campaign was again attacking Obama's policies on Medicare, looking minimize focus on differences between the running mates. That comes in a new TV advertisement linking Obama's divisive health care overhaul to cuts in Medicare. The ad, titled "Nothing's Free," asserts that Obama raided $716 billion from Medicare in order to pay for his health care law. It's the first ad Romney's campaign has run focusing on health care since the Supreme Court upheld Obama's federal mandate in June
Romney has promised to roll back the Medicare spending cuts approved under Obama, while Ryan kept the cuts in his budget proposals. The campaign did not say where the health care ad would run.
Romney flew Wednesday morning from Texas, where he held campaign fundraisers Tuesday, to Iowa. During remarks in a key Midwestern state, he planned to focus on the increases in the nation's debt during Obama's term.
Ryan, less than two weeks into his new role as GOP running mate, was campaigning in Virginia and North Carolina and focusing Wednesday on a tax overhaul. The GOP campaign says Obama's calls for letting George W. Bush-era tax cuts on people earning more than $200,000 a year expire at the end of the year would hurt small businesses because many file as individuals.
Obama, meanwhile, spent a second straight day criticizing GOP ticket's proposals on education, an issue that resonates with middle-class voters. The president's campaign sees education as another avenue for linking Romney to Ryan's budget, which calls for $115 billion in cuts to the Education Department.
Appearing at a school in North Las Vegas, Nev., Obama said that Republicans in Congress, "led by" Ryan, had thwarted Democratic efforts to give states money to rehire teachers laid off during the recession. The result is "tens of thousands of teachers" not entering classrooms this fall.
"Not only is that unfair to our kids, it's foolish for our future," Obama said. "My opponent in this election doesn't seem to understand this."
Nevada, a critical battleground in the fall, is one of the states hit hardest by the nation's economic slowdown. The president met with teachers at a local high school ahead of his remarks.
In a new ad released Wednesday, the Obama campaign suggests Ryan's education cuts would lead to larger class sizes. A couple featured in the ad bemoans the prospect of increased class size and says Romney "cannot relate" to their desire to have the best public education system for their children.
The ad is running in Virginia and Ohio.
Hunt reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn in Nevada and Julie Pace in Iowa contributed to this report.