DUBUQUE, Iowa As he launched a bus tour across Iowa, vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan made clear that in the "debate phase" of the campaign - as he's calling the final stretch - he'll go after President Obama not only for Obama's economic policies, but also for his foreign policy and positions on social issues.
Ryan spoke Monday evening here, the first stop of a two-day bus tour that will cover the eastern edge of this Midwestern swing state. Building on two weeks of criticism from the Romney campaign over Obama's handling of a growing crisis in the Middle East, Ryan said attacks against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, were "not just an isolated incident," but rather symptomatic of a larger problem.
"If you turn on the TV today you can see that the Obama foreign policy is unraveling before our eyes," Ryan said. "It's not just an isolated incident where we lost four Americans in Libya -- that's a tragedy. But it's part of a bigger story of the unraveling of this agenda all over the world. We've distanced our ally Israel, we are not advancing our interests in the Middle East, and the president is promising that we're going to have these devastating cuts to our national defense."
He also attacked the president for an executive order requiring religiously-affiliated institutions to offer birth control in their health plans. Ryan no longer needs to detail the exact policy on the campaign trail to provoke a fiery reaction from the crowd with his references to threats of religious liberty and warnings of what would happen if Obama is reelected.
"When you see a government that presumes that it can dictate to us how we exercise our rights, how we exercise our first amendment rights ... that is our right as people and our government has no right taking that way from us. We will not let that happen," Ryan said, as he assured the audience, "This isn't just a Catholic thing."
"He's got to win Iowa to win this thing," Ryan continued. "If he is willing to trample on our religious freedoms before his reelection, what do you think he will do if he never ever has to stand for election ever again? Think about how chilling that is!"
That's not to say Ryan's economic message has been eclipsed. He rolled out a crisp new attack on the president Monday evening, asking, "At a time when we have a jobs crisis in America, wouldn't it be nice to have a job creator in the White House?"
He will make stops in the eastern Iowa cities of Clinton, Muscatine and Burlington on Tuesday with members of both his immediate and extended family in tow. He often references his ties to Iowa when campaigning in the state through his wife, Janna, but he also got to tell the roughly 1,500-person crowd that gathered at Loras College that it was also his grandfather's alma mater.