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Provo • Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan framed the November election as a choice between opportunity or "a great welfare state."
Speaking to a few hundred people at a fundraiser in Provo Wednesday night, Ryan said that, since President Barack Obama came to office, the country is "deeper in debt, further in doubt and on a road to decline. We can't let that happen. Not on our watch."
"Do you want the American idea of an opportunity society and a safety net, that society of prosperity and upward mobility?" he asked attendees. "Or do you want Barack Obama's debt society and creating a great welfare state?"
Ryan, who accepted the Republican nomination to seek the White House along with Mitt Romney, spoke at the Utah Valley Convention Center to a group that paid $1,000 a person to attend, although students were allowed to buy tickets for just $20.
Earlier, he posed for photographs with donors who gave $2,500 apiece and attended an intimate dinner for individuals who contributed $25,000, divided between the campaign, and various state and national Republican parties. All told, the even raised well more than $1 million.
It was Ryan's first visit to Utah since Romney tapped him as his running mate, although he was in the state in June raising money for 4th Congressional District candidate Mia Love and attending a private retreat for Romney's biggest donors and bundlers.
Utah has once again been a cash cow for the Romney campaign, pouring $4.8 million into the cause, according to the most recent financial reports. Romney is expected to return to Utah on Sept. 18.
Ryan is best known as a budget hawk, the chairman of the House Budget Committee,
whose proposals to make deep cuts to government programs, cut taxes and restructure Medicare has become a lightning rod in the race for the White House.
In Charlotte, N.C., where Democrats were meeting in their national convention, Ryan was a favorite whipping boy.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said Ryan should take his share of responsibility for the nation's $16 trillion deficit.
"Here are the facts. When President Clinton left office, America had projected surpluses of trillions of dollars over the next decade. Then came two wars, two huge tax cuts tilted to the wealthy and a new entitlement," Van Hollen said. "Republicans didn't pay for any of it. Paul Ryan voted for all of it. On top of that, they left behind an economy in free-fall."
If Romney and Ryan are elected, Van Hollen said, they would slash programs and continue the Republican obsession with tax cuts for millionaires, which failed when it was tried before.
Ryan praised Romney as a leader who can fix the country's problems, and said he has a "bedrock" of principle, moral compass, vision and leadership skills. He pointed to Romney's management of the Salt Lake Olympics and as governor of Massachusetts and said both were examples of his skill at turning things around.
Ryan said he and Romney were making a commitment to voters, according to a pool report of the event.
"We're not going to duck the tough issues. We're not going to kick the can down the road and see a debt crisis hit this country. We will lead. We will fix this mess in Washington," he said. "We are not going to transform this country into something it was never intended to be. … It's not too late to turn this corner, to fix this mess and be proud of this moment."
Ryan arrived in Utah Wednesday afternoon and was greeted by eight Boy Scouts from Troop 720 in Provo before climbing into a black SUV. He waved to supporters who had gathered outside the gate as he drove past.
"He walked out and I was the first one and he said, 'Hi, how are you? I'm Paul Ryan,' and I said, 'It's great to have you here,'" said 12-year-old David Nelson, one of the Scouts who greeted Ryan. "It was such a big deal and there are cameras all over and I just feel lucky to be part of it."
His motorcade made a stop at the Romney Victory Center, a call center set up near Utah Valley University in Orem, where Ryan said he supports prayer in public schools and it should be up to the states to decide.
"That's a constitutional issue of the states, moral responsibility of parents, education," Ryan said, according to The Associated Press.
"Exactly, so I am hoping to try and push that," said the volunteer, 40-year-old Jenny Free, of Highland, Utah, a mother of nine.
"You know in Utah, I would think you would have a pretty good chance," Ryan responded.
Utah supporters will see a different treatment than supporters in swing states. Ryan was scheduled to leave Utah and head to the swing-state of Colorado where he was to speak at a public rally at Colorado Springs, with another rally planned Friday in Sparks, Nev.
Ryan supports prayer in schools if states agree
Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan says he supports prayer in public schools if approved by states.
The Wisconsin congressman addressed the issue during a brief stop Wednesday inside a Republican volunteer center in Provo. A volunteer asked whether he supported giving states the right to allow "prayer or pledge" in schools. Ryan said he did.
He says it's a constitutional issue for states and a moral responsibility of parents. And he says Utah voters would have "a pretty good chance" of allowing prayer in schools.
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign has not immediately clarified whether he agrees with Ryan's position.