COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) — Republican challenger Mitt Romney's new running mate took on Barack Obama in the Midwestern state of Iowa on Monday as the president began a bus tour of the battleground state that's suffering from the country's worst drought in decades.
Obama accused Romney's running mate, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, of standing in the way of aid to farms as crops wither and global food prices are expected to rise. "If you happen to see Congressman Ryan, tell him how important this farm bill is to Iowa and our rural communities," Obama told a crowd in Council Bluffs.
Notably, Romney did not take Ryan with him to campaign in Florida, where the vice presidential candidate's plans to overhaul government health care for the elderly was not likely to find a welcoming audience. The key swing state is heavily populated by older Americans who rely on the Medicare program.
Three months from Election Day, polls find Obama with a narrow lead over Romney in a race defined by a weak economy and high unemployment. But Romney enjoyed the biggest crowds of his campaign so far over the weekend after announcing Ryan as his running mate on Saturday.
Ryan, a favorite of the small-government, low-tax tea party wing of the Republican Party, brings to the Romney campaign an austere message on government spending, one designed over the coming decades to diminish the U.S. debt. He also brings enthusiasm from the party's conservative base, which has only reluctantly backed Romney because of the moderate positions he once took on social issues. Ryan is against abortion rights and has a top rating from gun-rights groups.
Ryan was in Iowa campaigning on his own for the first time since being announced Saturday.
The Obama campaign has been attacking Ryan's plans for Medicare and for reshaping the nation's tax system. That was expected to continue as Obama campaigns across Iowa for three days by bus — his longest visit to a single state yet in the 2012 campaign.
Attending campaign fundraisers in Chicago on Sunday, the president called Ryan the "ideological leader" of the Republican Party.
"He is a decent man, he is a family man, he is an articulate spokesman for Governor Romney's vision, but it is a vision that I fundamentally disagree with," Obama said in his first public comments about Ryan's selection.
With Ryan in place, the race takes full shape. Romney portrays himself as a proponent of a friendlier business climate seeking to revitalize the economy and rein in federal spending, and Obama casts himself as a defender of middle-class families and federal spending on health care, retirement pensions and education.
Looking to define the Republican ticket's views on Medicare, the Obama campaign released an online video Monday featuring seniors in Florida talking about how Ryan's proposed changes to the popular health care program could affect them. The video aims to portray Obama as Medicare's protector.
Romney tried Sunday to distance himself from his running mate's budget plan, making clear that his ideas rule, not Ryan's. And he briefly defended Ryan's Medicare plans on Monday, telling Florida voters that the Republican ticket wants to "make sure that we preserve and protect Medicare."
At the same time, a pro-Romney organization was spending more than $10 million on a new television advertisement attacking Obama's handling of the economy as the nation's unemployment rate lingers above 8 percent.
"Another month. Even more Americans jobless," says the narrator in the ad from the group, Restore Our Future, which is led by people with close ties to Romney.
The spot will air for more than a week across 11 presidential battleground states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
The U.S. president is not chosen by nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests. With most of the 50 states already solidly in the column of either Romney or Obama, the candidates are campaigning hard in the handful of states that do not reliably vote for one party or another.
Obama was showcasing the powers of incumbency Monday as his administration was directing the Agriculture Department to buy up to $170 million worth of meat and poultry to provide relief to farmers and ranchers.
Associated Press writers Steve Peoples, Kasie Hunt, Ken Thomas, Steven R. Hurst and Julie contributed to this report.