By Catalina Camia, USA TODAY
One day into the Romney-Ryan ticket, the battle for the presidency is now joined.
Top advisers to President Obama and Mitt Romney fanned out on Sunday morning talk shows to deliver the same message: The Republican's choice of Rep. Paul Ryan as his running mate means this is a presidential election about substance and, specifically, about the size and scope of the federal government.
"The message was that this is a big election, and it is about big issues, and it needs to be serious," said Romney adviser Ed Gillespie on CNN's State of the Union. "We're not going to ... be distracted by some of these little things that the Obama campaign seems to constantly want to be putting out there."
David Axelrod, senior adviser to the Obama campaign, said Romney's decision to tap Ryan -- author of a sweeping budget plan to overhaul Medicare -- as his pick for vice president is a "clarifying choice" for the American people.
Axelrod said on ABC's This Week that Obama was surprised Romney picked Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman in his ninth term. On CNN, Axelrod said Obama views Ryan as "genial" and a "bright guy," but then went on to describe Ryan as a "right-wing ideologue."
"It is a pick that is meant to thrill the most strident voices in the Republican Party, but it's one that should trouble everyone else," Axelrod said on ABC about Ryan. "He's the guy who's the architect of a plan to end Medicare as we know it and turn it into a voucher program and ship thousands of dollars of costs onto senior citizens."
Ryan's Medicare plan would allow those 55 and younger to opt out of the government-run health insurance program and purchase private insurance with a federal subsidy. His proposal would not change the way Medicare would work for seniors currently enrolled in the program.
Asked about talking points for GOP surrogates that make clear Romney doesn't support everything in the Ryan budget, Gillespie said on CNN that Romney has made clear that "if the Ryan budget had come to his desk as president, he would have signed it."
Things got heated over on CBS, where Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom and Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter often interrupted each other during the discussion on Face the Nation.
Fehrnstrom charged that Obama's campaign has been mired in negative campaigning, saying the Democrats have offered "50 shades of mud" to voters. Cutter argued that criticism of Ryan's Medicare plan is not negative campaigning.
"It would be the end of Medicare as we know it," Cutter said.
Ryan also has a different Medicare plan that he crafted with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and introduced in December. The key difference is that it would give seniors the choice of staying in Medicare as it is currently configured or getting health insurance through private companies.
Part of the GOP's argument to voters today is that Romney and Ryan offer solutions, while Obama does not. Pressed on CNN about Obama's plan for Medicare, Axelrod said Obama has already taken steps through his budgets to "lengthen the life of Medicare by eight years" in part by cracking down on waste, fraud and abuse.
Axelrod noted that the Obama administration has stepped up prosecutions of Medicare fraud, resulting in "billions of dollars" recovered for the government.