GRAND JUNCTION, Colo.-- Just two weeks before voters cast their ballots, Paul Ryan will try out a new argument: The Republican ticket will do more to help the poor. He will spell out a conservative, non-government-focused model for addressing poverty.
According to a Ryan aide, the GOP vice presidential candidate will use a speech in Cleveland on Wednesday to "make the case that Americans stuck in poverty cannot afford four more years like the last four and that Mitt Romney offers a better pathway for low-income Americans to improve their lives through opportunity and upward mobility than the failed policies of President Obama."
At this time of the campaign, candidates are usually trying to squeeze in as much campaigning as possible as opposed to laying out a policy address, but four years ago Sarah Palin also gave a series of policy addresses in the final days, including one on support for families of special needs children.
An argument that their world view will do more to help the American poor could represent an attempt by the Ryan and the Romney campaign to address the perception among voters that they lack empathy.
According to ABC News pollster Gary Langer, empathy can be a "significant independent predictor of vote preferences."
President Obama leads Romney by 7 points, 51 to 44 percent, on "who better understands the economic problems people in this country are having," according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll to be released Wednesday.
Democrats have attacked Ryan's various budget plans, which propose drastic across-the-board government spending cuts, because they would reduce funding for social programs. And leaders in the Catholic Church, of which Ryan is a member, have repudiated Ryan's proposal, particularly expected cuts to food stamp (SNAP) benefits for this reason.
Mitt Romney probably didn't help matters when he said, in a leaked video from a $50,000-a-head fundraising dinner in Boca Raton, that "47 percent" of people who don't pay income taxes will never vote for him because they are "dependent" and "victims."
And Ryan has added to that perception: The campaign suffered a photo-op misstep when he was criticized for appearing to scrub clean pots at a soup kitchen in Youngstown, Ohio. Ryan was accused of reaching for a photo instead of actually wanting to help homeless people.
But the aide said the issue of helping the homeless and people living in poverty is close to Ryan because of his mentor, Jack Kemp, who was known as a "bleeding heart conservative" and worked with the Republican Party and those working to eliminate poverty. In the early 1990s he was the chairman of the Economic Empowerment Task Force, a Cabinet subgroup formed to develop antipoverty policy.
Like Kemp, the aide says Ryan believes the federal government must work with those in "civil-society groups" on the "front lines of the poverty fight" who offer "more than just material support," but the "gift of human compassion."
Ryan touched on similar issues in a speech to Georgetown University in April, when he discussed upward mobility for the poor; it was meant as a rebuttal to Catholic criticism of his budget plan.
"Our budget builds on the historic welfare reforms of the 1990s?reforms proven to work. We aim to empower state and local governments, communities, and individuals?those closest to the problem," said Ryan. "And we aim to promote opportunity and upward mobility by strengthening job training programs, to help those who have fallen on hard times. My mentor, Jack Kemp, used to say, 'You can't help America's poor by making America poor.'"
Ryan has suggested that cutting federal programs to help the poor will enable more local and state programs to do the job. He said they could do the job better.
"Now what we believe as practicing Catholics, as conservative Catholics is that our job is to go after the root cause of poverty, to try and eradicate poverty," he told the Christian Broadcasting Network's David Brody back in September. "We believe in individuals in their community and solidarity with one another working to create a better common good for everybody; helping people in need, protecting the voiceless like the unborn."
Ryan's speech Wednesday will "lay out the vision and the policy reforms" that Romney has stressed in his campaign, according to the aide, including "protected space for civil society that is not threatened by government overreach, overspending and debt; a stronger safety net that helps those who are truly in need; a reformed education system that gives more choices to parents and more opportunities to children; and a robust and growing economy creating more jobs and better wages for all."
According to the same Ryan aide, the House Budget Chairman will argue tomorrow that "spending ever-greater sums of money through top-down, bureaucratic programs has failed to help people escape from lives of poverty" and he will "contrast this approach with the successful example of welfare reform, which helped millions of low-income Americans achieve lives of dignity and freedom."
Prior to the speech, Ryan will join a roundtable discussion with community leaders in Ohio.