Republican pair go to work on their weaknesses

REPUBLICANS have surprised many election observers in the past week by drawing attention to two issues they were widely expected to avoid.

REPUBLICANS have surprised many election observers in the past week by drawing attention to two issues they were widely expected to avoid.

They have campaigned hard on Medicare, traditionally a strong suit for the Democrats and seen as a particular weakness for vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan.

And after a year of studiously avoiding all but the most oblique references to presidential candidate Mitt Romney's faith, his advisers have concluded it is time for him to publicly embrace it, inviting select members of the media to join him at a Mormon church service near his lake house in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.

Mr Ryan is deploying a weapon to win the argument over which party can be entrusted with Medicare his 78-year-old mother. With the spry-looking Betty Ryan Douglas at his side, he batted away accusations his reform plans would end one of the nation's most cherished welfare entitlements.

"Medicare was there for our family, for my grandma when we needed it then. And Medicare is there for my mom, when she needs it now. And we have to keep that guarantee," Mr Ryan said at a weekend rally in a retirement village in Florida.

However, Mr Ryan said that only reform could secure Medicare for the next generation: "In order to make sure that we can guarantee that promise for my mom's generation, for those baby boomers who are retiring every day, we must reform it for my generation."

Polling has shown the Medicare issue is key to the outcome in battleground states such as Florida and Iowa, which have large populations of pensioners.

On August 6, Mr Romney's campaign started allowing reporters to follow every move he makes, by plane or road. While cameras weren't allowed inside the church in Wolfeboro, reporters could take notes.

Mr Romney read scripture from his iPad as he juggled his two-year-old grandson.

Despite concerns that drawing attention to his role in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints might alienate evangelicals and other conservatives, his campaign has decided that when Mr Romney addresses the Republican convention in Florida next week, a church member will deliver the invocation. Mr Romney's work as a Mormon bishop will also be on display.

Both parties agree that Medicare must be reformed because tax revenues from a shrinking working-age population will not be enough to fund its projected 91 million users in 2035.

Mr Romney and Mr Ryan have proposed partly privatising Medicare using a voucher scheme to enable pensioners to purchase private insurance. The reforms would not affect anyone over the age of 55 today.

President Barack Obama said the voucher schemes would leave the poorest pensioners facing huge extra bills.

"You'd think they'd avoid talking about Medicare, given the fact that both of them have proposed to voucherise the Medicare system," said Mr Obama, also in New Hampshire this weekend. "I guess they figure the best defence is to try to go on offence."

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