Romney cautious about Medicare stance in Fla.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney addresses supporters during a campaign stop in Miami, Monday, Aug. 13, 2012.
AP Photo/J Pat Carter

(CBS News) Mitt Romney talked to voters in the key state of Florida Monday, doing his best to keep the subject on the struggling economy. One issue he stayed away from was Medicare, as he tries to figure out the best way to talk about how his plan would differ from his running mate's.

Aside from a brief assurance, Romney barely mentioned what would affect people in Florida more than any other place in the country. Speaking in St. Augustine, Romney said, "We want to make sure that we preserve and protect Medicare."

Two days after announcing his new running mate and a campaign theme of making tough choices to save America's future, it's proving to be a tricky line for Romney to walk.

Rep. Paul Ryan, (R-Wis.), so far, isn't trying that same balancing act. In his very first speech as the vice presidential nominee, he said this: "It is our duty to save the American dream for our children and theirs."

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Ryan backs that up with a serious plan to dramatically cut the budget, rein in spending, and reform entitlement programs like Medicare. But Romney, perhaps cautious of polls that show people like the current system, struck a more cautious and vague note on change.

Romney's website says Ryan's plan "almost precisely mirrors Mitt's ideas." But pressed on Monday, Romney wouldn't even say that. "The items that we agree on I think outweigh any differences there may be," Romney said. "We haven't gone through piece by piece and said, 'Oh, here's a place where there's a difference.'"

With Romney in Florida, Ryan made his first solo appearance as the GOP vice presidential candidate at the Iowa State Fair. He got a warm welcome, but his speech was interrupted by hecklers. Ryan said in response: "Iowans and Wisconsinites, we like to be respectful of one another and peaceful with one another and listen to each other. These ladies must not be from Iowa or Wisconsin!"

(On "CBS This Morning," CBS News political director John Dickerson discusses how both political parties are trying to define Ryan. Watch that discussion in the video below.)

A new Gallup/USA Today poll shows that Americans are split over Romney's choice of Ryan - 39 percent call his selection "excellent or pretty good," while 42 percent say it's "only fair or poor." But the good news for Ryan: 58 percent don't know who he is and he has strong support from Republicans who need to turn out in November.

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh said, "A decision was made somewhere that we're gonna go headfirst up against this. We're not gonna skirt it with a traditional campaign - we're gonna take it straight to them."

But not all Republicans are happy. Some congressional Democrats are already connecting their GOP opponents to Ryan's controversial Medicare plan. One Republican, Sen. Linda McMahon, of Conn., even felt the need to put out a statement Monday saying she'll never support a budget that cuts Medicare.

The Romney campaign is also on damage control over a fundraiser. Last night, Romney raised money at a well-known Miami restaurant whose owner pleaded guilty to cocaine distribution in 1999 and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Watch Jan Crawford's full report in the video above.

  • Jan Crawford
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    Jan Crawford is CBS News' chief legal correspondent and based in Washington, D.C.