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Romney tries to define Ryan before Democrats do it for him

ASHLAND, Va. -- Mitt Romney and his freshly minted running mate Paul Ryan refined their rhetoric and sharpened their attacks against President Barack Obama at their second joint stop of the day Saturday, firing up a crowded auditorium at a rally at Randolph-Macon College.

"He's going to divide and distract this country to win an election by default, and you know what? We're not going to fall for that," Ryan said to supporters craning their necks for the best possible views of the Republican ticket unveiled Saturday morning at a rally in Norfolk, Va.

At the afternoon event, the second major stop on a four-state bus tour designed to introduce the combined ticket to swing state voters, Romney praised his No. 2 as a leader who can reach across the aisle and pre-emptively defended his pick on the issue where Democrats believe him to be most vulnerable: his plan to remake Medicare as part of a larger budget reform.

"He's done something very few people in Washington know how to do. He's made friends on both sides of the aisle. He's garnered respect from Republicans and Democrats. And when the big issues have come up, like how do we save Medicare instead of doing what the president did, which is cutting it by $700 billion -- that's what President Obama did," Romney said, his microphone cutting out briefly. "This man said I'm going to find Democrats to work with. He found a Democrat to co-lead a piece of legislation."

That legislation, informally known as  the Wyden-Ryan plan for the Democratic senator who joined Ryan in fashioning it, remodels Medicare on a system of premium supports or vouchers for seniors, instead of the traditional Medicare model. It’s a lightning-rod issue, and Romney's comments make it clear his campaign is eager to define Ryan's role in the battle over his controversial budget proposals before Democrats  -- who had spent Saturday morning blasting Ryan as an ideologue too extreme for America -- do it for him.

To that end, Romney praised his choice as a man of considerable character and someone willing to make the hard choices in governing, but as crowd members here stamped their feet on the bleachers and cheered, the GOP contenders also took a break from praising one another to offer red meat to their supporters.

"We're going to talk about issues and a vision for America, and not drag down in the dirt like you're seeing from the Obama campaign," Romney said.

Related: Romney introduces Paul Ryan as his running mate