(CBS News) ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - After a jam-packed weekend furiously jetting around the country with his new running mate, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney flew solo in the Sunshine State today and tried to deflect Democrats' criticism of Ryan's Medicare proposals.
Romney arrived in Florida in the middle of the night after racing through Virginia, North Carolina and Wisconsin on Saturday and Sunday with his newly-minted vice presidential selection. Florida, which holds 29 electoral votes, is critical in Romney's path to victory this November. There are few scenarios where he can win the election without taking the state.
(Watch Romney's remarks on Medicare.)
Romney won Florida's Republican primary contest and has spent a significant time on the trail here for over a year. However, in Ryan, he has selected a running mate who raises a possible vulnerability for him here on the hot-button issue of Medicare, which affects a large swath of Florida's senior citizen community. He said today that the two "want to make sure that we preserve and protect Medicare." In contrast, Romney expounded that President Obama wants to cut Medicare by $700 billion.
Meantime, Mr. Obama's deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter, "it says something about Mitt Romney that he chose someone who has a budget that really, it would be the end of Medicare as we know it. It would increase costs on seniors and throw them into the private market."
The crowd responded warmly at the mention of Ryan's name. "He attacks problems, and he recognizes that there are honest differences between honest people and he looks to find ways to find common ground to bring people together," Romney told them.
Meanwhile, he had overtly harsh words for President's Obama's campaign. "It's smear, it's dirt, it's distortion, it's deception it's dishonesty. It diminishes the, it diminishes the office of the presidency itself."
Fatigue from an action packed weekend may have set in with Romney, who deviated from his standard stump speech more than usual. In rare form, Romney mentioned space exploration twice, bragging at one point about the U.S. Rover mission landing on Mars, and then later telling a story about an American flag that was retrieved from the Challenger explosion wreckage. Florida is home to the Kennedy Space Center and has sufferedin the space coast where NASA once thrived.
"Now when President Obama was candidate Obama he promised everyone in this country the moon, but he never got off the launch pad and so we have a very different approach, I'm delighted to have picked as my running mate, Paul Ryan, a great leader," said Romney.
The presumptive Republican nominee, who will accept his party's official bid in Tampa in two weeks, was joined by some familiar faces this morning, with Attorney General Pam Bondi and Sen. Marco Rubio revving up the crowd before he spoke. Both have been outspoken campaign surrogates for a significant amount of time, with Rubio long in the running to be a vice presidential contender himself.
He was introduced, however, by Gov. Rick Scott, who was making his debut appearance alongside Romney. Though Scott touts some similar credentials to Romney - he, too, had a lucrative career in the private sector before becoming governor in 2010 - his approval ratings are among the lowest of any governor in the country. A common messaging problem that arises for Romney when he campaigns with Republican governors is that they often want to tout an improving economic climate in their states, while Romney stumps on how bad the national economy is. Scott fell into step with the former. "In Florida, our economy's getting better," he said. "Our, our unemployment's dropped faster than any other state employment in the last 18 months."
Romney's next public event is Monday evening in the Miami area. He was originally planning on holding a third event in Orlando, as well, but the campaign canceled it. It appears the cancellation came in order to give Romney a chance to catch his breath but campaign adviser Kevin Madden refuted that assessment, saying Romney's schedule is simply too packed.