OLDSMAR â" OLDSMAR â" Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan fired up hundreds of supporters in Oldsmar on Saturday, hammering President Barack Obama and urging Floridians to elect Mitt Romney.
Ryan's 20-minute speech at a pavilion overlooking Tampa Bay in R. E. Olds Park focused heavily on economic criticisms of Obama, only touching briefly on the violent protests in several Middle Eastern countries.
"We need a strong national security," he said. "If we project weakness, they come. If we are strong, our adversaries will not test us and our allies will respect us."
In the early hours of the crisis, Romney's campaign made a controversial statement saying Obama had "apologized" for American values.
"I can understand what he said," said Melinda Fritz, 29, of Temple Terrace, one of several thousand people who gathered for the rally. "We are seen in the world as getting weaker and weaker."
Before Ryan spoke, U.S. Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young, R-Indian Rocks Beach, doubled down on the foreign policy criticism, calling Obama the "apologizer in chief."
Ryan's biggest applause line when he defended Romney's career at Bain Capital. "Being successful in business, that is a good thing in this country. There is nothing wrong with that."
Ryan acknowledged Obama entered office in a historically bad economy. But he slammed the president's stimulus package, saying it did nothing to improve things.
"When he came in, he came in with one-party rule," he said. "The Obama economic agenda did not fail because it was stopped. It failed because it was passed. It didn't work."
Other speakers included U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state Rep. Jamie Grant of Tampa, Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker.
Saturday's event is the latest in a series of high-profile campaign events in Tampa Bay and across the state that underscore the importance of the Florida's 29 electoral votes.
A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll put Obama ahead of his Republican rival by 5 points in Florida. Many observers say Florida's 29 electoral votes are key to a Romney victory.
"Florida's a big deal," said George Silverman, 69, a Largo retiree. "You just hope it goes to the right."
Baker underscored the point, calling Pinellas County the "anchor" of the Interstate 4 corridor.
"When we win the I-4 corridor, we will win the state of Florida," he said. "Does anybody know what happens when we win the state of Florida? You elect Mitt Romney the next president of the United States of America."
Ryan is a rock star for the Republican faithful, with many attendees praising the Republican budget he crafted as a bold document that would cut the deficit.
"At least he was one to step up and offer changes," said Candace Turtzo, of Oldsmar. "I think people were surprised when Romney took the step to put him on the ticket. He didn't do what was politically correct. He did what was right."
Ryan helped shore up the conservative base, including many who were skeptical of Romney's health care law he passed as governor of Massachusetts.
"I turned around when they picked Paul Ryan," said Lynn Lee, 51, of St. Petersburg. "To me, Paul Ryan, at least he's willing to make a plan."
Democrats have been trying to make that budget a liability. Before the rally began, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, offered a welcome to her House colleague.
She said her two terms on the House Budget Committee makes her "well versed in how detrimental" Ryan's budget is for Florida. Romney has praised the plan but said he will formulate his own budget if elected.
"The dirty secret that you will not hear Congressman Ryan talk about today is they go to a voucher Medicare (system) in order to give additional tax breaks to the wealthiest people across the country," she said. "I doubt he will discuss that."