Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney unveiled deficit-cutting budget hawk congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate Saturday, bidding to revive his campaign to win the White House.
Buoyed by a boisterous crowd, the pair pledged to restore the country to greatness by reversing what they said were the Obama administration's failures, with Ryan lauding their goal as nothing less than to "save the American dream."
"We can turn this thing around," the seven-term congressman from Wisconsin told cheering supporters in Norfolk, Virginia in the shadow of a hulking grey battleship appropriately named the USS Wisconsin.
"High unemployment, declining incomes and crushing debt is not a new normal. It's the result of misguided policies," said Ryan, 42, in pointed criticism of President Barack Obama in his first public comments since getting Romney's nod.
"It is our duty to save the American dream for our children and theirs," said Ryan, pledging "to restore prosperity, economic growth and jobs."
In recent weeks Romney has slumped behind Obama in opinion polls, with the incumbent taking a clear lead nationally and in most of the dozen swing states that will decide the November 6 election.
A Fox News national poll on Thursday put Obama at 49 percent to Romney's 40, while a CNN poll had Obama at 52 percent, seven points up on the Republican, a multimillionaire investor and former Massachusetts governor.
But by picking Ryan, a favorite of small government conservatives, and embarking on a four-day bus tour across four battleground states, Romney hopes to regain the upper hand in the race.
Although he is trailing Obama in polls, the Republican has raised more cash than his opponent in recent months and a Romney spokeswoman tweeted that an extra $1.2 million had been raised in the four hours after Ryan was picked.
The vice presidential roll-out was impressively choreographed but it did not go off without a hitch. Romney made a cringe-worthy gaffe when he introduced the wonkish budget hawk as "the next president of the United States."
Laughter and awkwardness ensued as Ryan strode down the USS Wisconsin before Romney retook the podium, put his arm around his pick, and said: "Every now and then I make a mistake... but I did not make a mistake with this guy."
Ryan is chairman of the House Budget Committee, and earlier this year unveiled a budget plan -- widely backed by Republicans -- that slashes federal spending and lowers taxes for all Americans and corporations.
Most controversial, it overhauls entitlement programs Medicare and Medicaid.
Obama's Democrats immediately went on the attack, alleging that the cuts would hurt those who rely on such aid to pay for healthcare, including the elderly.
"Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said.
With Congress saddled by its lowest approval ratings on record and Ryan's status as a Washington insider -- he was first elected aged only 28 -- he may, like Romney, have his work cut out to appeal to ordinary voters.
Ryan said he would work with his opponents for the good of the nation, but he kept up the red-blooded invective, citing a flailing economic recovery, unemployment above eight percent, soaring deficits, and plunging wages and home prices, as reasons to elect Republicans and end Obama's "record of failure."
"Governor Romney is the man for this moment, and he and I share one commitment: we will restore the dreams and greatness of this country," he said.
The decision to pick Ryan was welcomed by Senator John McCain, who lost to Obama in 2008, who said the Republican ticket was the "strongest team to return America to prosperity and to defend our interests abroad."
The importance of the vice presidential pick was underlined in four years ago by McCain's choice of Sarah Palin, the then virtually unknown governor of Alaska.
Palin was initially seen as a sound pick, popular among conservatives, but she quickly became a liability, making several gaffes and appearing unversed in foreign policy. She was widely considered a factor in McCain's loss to Obama.
Conservative pundits, many of whom had been pressing for Ryan to be chosen, were broadly happy with Romney's choice.
Many expected him to go with a safer pick, such as the more moderate Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, or former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, whose blue-collar roots would have helped the ticket connect with everyday voters.
"Mitt Romney made a very courageous decision for a big solutions, big choice election with Paul Ryan," said Romney's one-time rival for the Republican nomination, former House speaker Newt Gingrich, on Twitter.