Ryan swiftly jumps into attack-dog role

Mitt Romney, left, and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. wave to the crowd as they arrive for a rally at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., Saturday, Aug. 11. AP Photo/Steve Helber

Mitt Romney, left, and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. wave to the crowd as they arrive for a rally at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., Saturday, Aug. 11.
AP Photo/Steve Helber

(CBS News) ASHLAND, Va. - Even as he promises to uplift the country with this election, presumptive GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan took less than a few hours on Saturday to assume the role of candidate Mitt Romney's attack dog.

"President Obama cannot run on this record. It's a terrible record to run on, and he didn't change. I've served on Congress this whole time. He didn't tack to the middle. He didn't do things that were centrist, he stayed hard left," Ryan told a packed gymnasium of cheering voters in Ashland. "So if he can't run on his record, if he didn't moderate what's he got left, he's gonna divide and distract this country to win an election by default and you know what? We're not gonna fall for that!"

In an event in Norfolk, Va., earlier in the day, as his new position was announced, Ryan ticked off economic statistics that he said demonstrate the president's "record of failure."

(Watch: Ryan assumes role as Romney's attack dog.)

One of the Wisconsin congressman's chief roles as Romney's running mate will be to counter attacks from the Obama campaign. Ryan stepped right into the existing narrative with his critique that the president is trying to divide and distract the country, as the two campaigns come off of a week of battles over misleading negative ads.

A pro-Obama Super PAC, Priorities USA Action, released a misleading ad linking Romney's tenure at Bain to the death of the wife of a steelworker laid off from a plant owned by Bain Capital. The Romney campaign released its own ad that misrepresented awaiver for welfare work requirements issued by the administration, earning them a "pants on fire" rating from the web site Politifact.

(Watch: Paul Ryan lists Jack Kemp among key mentors.)

"We love America!" Romney promised to the cheering crowd as he criticized the Obama campaign for dragging the campaign through the dirt. "We're not going to besmirch the office of the presidency by succumbing to the kind of attacks and vile and charges that are coming from the Democrats."

But at the same time as Ryan eases into his new role, Romney was seeking to paint him as a bipartisan reformer, citing Ryan's work on a Medicare proposal with Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.

Their plan, unveiled last year, would allow seniors to choose between traditional Medicare and new private insurance programs. It differs from Ryan's budget blueprint that Republicans have rallied around -- and Democrats have attacked -- by giving seniors a choice between staying in traditional Medicare or opting into new private plan alternatives.

"He's garnered respect from Republicans and Democrats, and when there are big issues that come up, like how do we save Medicare," Romney said of Ryan during the Ashland rally. "This man said I'm going to find Democrats to work with, found a Democrat to co-lead a piece of legislation that makes sure we can save Medicare, Republicans and Democrats coming together. He's a man who has great ideas and the capacity to lead, to find people across the aisle to work together to make things change for the American people."

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.

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