Cleveland, Ohio (CNN) - Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan laid out a vision for lifting people out of poverty while speaking Wednesday in an area of Ohio that Barack Obama won handily in 2008.
"Many of those who are living in poverty today were in the middle class just a few years ago," said Ryan. "Sadly, in four years and now in four debates, neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden has offered the American people an agenda for a second term, but we know what it would be: more of the same."
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Ryan, a seven-term congressman and House Budget Committee chairman, tried to dispel the notion that Republicans, and his running mate Mitt Romney, "think everybody should just fend for themselves."
"My party has a vision for making our communities stronger but we don't always do a good job of laying out that vision," he said before a crowd of 600 at Cleveland State University.
He added a Romney-Ryan administration "will not defer to the Washington-knows-best crowd" when it comes to helping low-income families.
The policy-focused speech was a departure from rallies and town hall meetings Ryan has held just about every day since he became Mitt Romney's running mate on August 11. Rather than speak off-the-cuff from notes like he does at most rallies, this time he wore a suit and delivered prepared remarks from a teleprompter.
In an apparent effort to blunt the portrayal of Romney by Obama and his re-election team as an out-of-touch wealthy businessman, Ryan said his running mate's experience in the private sector uniquely qualifies him to manage an economic recovery, which he often says, but for the first time Ryan showcased Romney's personal contributions to his community.
Ryan said Romney is a "man who could easily have contented himself with giving donations to needy causes, but everyone who knows him will tell you that Mitt has always given his time and attention to those around him who are hurting."
"As for Mitt Romney, he not only understands the importance of community – he's lived it. He's a guy who, at the height of a successful business, took the time to serve as a lay pastor for his church for fourteen years, counseling people in Boston's inner-city neighborhoods, especially when they lost a job," Ryan said of Romney, who himself has been reluctant to discuss publicly, particularly as it relates to his Mormon religion.
The vice presidential hopeful compared Romney to his mentor, Jack Kemp, whom he considered a "champion of growth and prosperity."
"Over many years, Jack set his mind and heart to the problems of poverty, brushing aside a lot of the old assumptions and the settled attitudes," he said after being introduced by his mentor's son, Jimmy Kemp. "The same holds true for Mitt Romney. If you want to know how Mitt Romney will lead our nation, then look at how he has led his life. He's a modest man with a charitable heart. He's a doer and a promise-keeper."
In his 25-minute address Ryan spoke broadly about how a Romney-Ryan administration would tackle the issue of poverty.
"Where government is entrusted with providing a safety net, Mitt Romney and I have our own vision for how to keep it strong. It is a vision that leaves the failures of the past in the past, and proposes instead to build on those reforms that have worked," he said.
He praised the landmark Welfare Reform legislation for making "major strides toward getting the government out of the business of fostering dependency" but noted the "welfare-reform mindset hasn't been applied with equal vigor across the spectrum of anti-poverty programs."
"For starters, a Romney-Ryan administration will clearly restore those parts of the welfare-reform law that have been undone or weakened," he said. "The federal government would continue to provide the resources, but we would remove endless federal mandates and restrictions that hamper state efforts to make these programs more effective. If the question is what is best for low-income Ohioans, shouldn't we let Ohioans make that call?"
The Wisconsin lawmaker received a standing ovation when he said, if they win the White House, Romney will get rid of the Obama administration's mandate that all organizations, including those based in faith, pay for health insurance that covers contraception.
"This mandate isn't just a threat to religious charities it's a threat to all those who turn to them in times of need. In the name of strengthening our safety net, this mandate and others will weaken it," said Ryan.
Ryan also stressed the need to address government spending and the nation's increasing national debt, and he reminded the audience of the campaign's five-point plan and their goal of 12 million jobs over the next four years.
He reiterated their core message, "above all else is the pressing need for jobs."
After his swing-state stop in Ohio, Ryan traveled to the reliably-red Georgia, focused on helping the GOP fill its campaign coffers with an evening fund-raiser in Atlanta. On Friday, he will raise money in two more Republican stronghold states, South Carolina and Alabama.
Later Friday, Romney and Ryan will rally supporters in Ohio, and on Saturday, Ryan kicks off an eight stop, 400 mile, two day tour of the Buckeye State.