U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican Party's nominee for vice president last year, challenged the Maryland GOP on Thursday night to follow the example of the party in his home state of Wisconsin and take back the State House.
Bringing a message of hope to Maryland's downtrodden Republicans, Ryan pointed to the Wisconsin GOP's success in seizing the governorship and both houses of the Legislature in 2010, while also making gains in the Congress.
"We did it a few years ago in Wisconsin," he said. "You are ripe for it right here in Maryland."
Ryan's speech at a Republican fundraiser in Baltimore largely struck general themes of self-reliance and the ills of dependence on government, but he also signaled a shift away from the House Republican caucus' practice of holding repeated votes to repeal President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act outright — even though he predicted that its implementation would be a "fiasco."
"We have to show what we'll replace it with," he said. "We have to show we have better ideas, better solutions."
Ryan also urged Republicans to show they have solutions to the problems of the inner cities, where they are routinely overwhelmed by Democrats.
"We want to tackle the root causes of poverty," he said. "We have to offer a conservatism that everyone can relate to — that everyone can see, feel, touch and understand."
But Ryan offered a harsh judgment of Americans who do not prosper, approvingly quoting an Irish official from the 19th century who said that in America, nine out of 10 of those who do not succeed fail to do so because of deficiencies in their character.
On the political side, Ryan offered a quip and a goal.
"Being a Republican in Maryland, you kind of feel you're like a taxidermist at a PETA convention," he said — referring to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
He followed that with a challenge: "Let's double the House Republican delegation for Maryland in 2014."
Achieving that would take the current 7-1 Democrat-to-Republican lineup to 6-2.
Mitt Romney's 2012 running mate addressed the state party's 23rd annual Red, White and Blue Dinner at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel.
Ryan, 43, has served in the U.S. House since 1999. With the GOP takeover of the House in 2010, he took over chairmanship of the House Budget Committee and became the House Republicans' leading spokesman on fiscal issues.
Ryan's budget expertise and strong appeal to the base helped propel him onto the 2012 GOP ticket, but his selection apparently added little to Romney's electoral appeal. Dashing Republican hopes of turning a blue state red, Obama won Ryan's home state comfortably.
David Ferguson, executive director of the state GOP, said Ryan's vice presidential defeat had cost him none of his luster among Maryland Republicans.
"We're looking forward, and he will be one of the leaders as we look forward in the next couple of elections," Ferguson said. "We've got a capacity crowd in the ballroom here."
Tickets were $200 apiece, with $500 for VIP status and a full table for as much as $10,000. Most of the seats were occupied.
Ryan's appearance drew a blast from the Maryland Democratic Party, which issued a statement criticizing his plans for "ending Medicare as we know it" and replacing Obama's health care program.
"The policies Mr. Ryan and the Maryland Republican Party are pushing will have a direct and devastating effect on the people of Maryland and our recovering economy," said party spokesman Michael Ford. "Their plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system, ending Medicare as we know it, and repealing the Affordable Care Act jeopardizes the health of our citizens and leaves many of our most vulnerable out in the cold."