TREASURE ISLAND, Fla. (AP) — Showing no signs of letting up, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are doubling down on claims the other would threaten seniors' golden years.
Both campaigns sharpened their critique of the other's Medicare policies in recent days and planned to intensify them yet again on Sunday, as the already acrimonious race for the White House reached a new level. Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, on Saturday told seniors here on Florida's western coast that he sees parallels with Europe's debt crisis that cut seniors' benefits. He warned the same could happen right here at home.
Campaigning in New Hampshire, Obama said it is a sure thing that Romney would tear apart Medicare.
Medicare, the popular — though costly — health program for seniors, has become a flashpoint in the presidential race in the frenzied week since Romney picked Ryan as his vice presidential pick. Ryan, a deficit hawk and the House Republicans' chief budget writer, brought buzz to the ticket but also left Romney trying to explain to seniors that he would not take a wrecking ball to the program seniors see as a right.
Ryan has stood out in Washington for laying out tough spending choices that many lawmakers in both parties avoid. So it was almost inevitable that his selection as running mate would vault Medicare to the top of the campaign debate. But it isn't clear it will remain the top priority in an election that, to this point, has been a contest between Romney and Obama over who would be best for jobs and the economy.
Obama wasted no time reaching for the upper-hand on Medicare and his spokespeople were ready to take to the Sunday talk shows to plant doubts about what Ryan would do to seniors' programs in the name of balancing budgets. Romney's and Ryan's were at the ready, too, to point out Obama had shifted billions from the program to pay for Democrats' health care law.
It's a familiar charge already. On Saturday, Ryan accused Obama of raiding the Medicare "piggybank" to pay for his health care overhaul.
Obama countered that seniors shouldn't trust their golden years to Romney.
"They've been trying to sell this trickle-down snake oil before," Obama told his audience in Windham, N.H. "It did not work then. It will not work now. It will not reduce the deficit, it will not create jobs. It's the wrong direction for America."
Ryan's proposal in Congress would encourage future retirees to consider private coverage that the government would help pay for through a voucher-like system, while keeping the traditional program as an option.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Medicare over time would spend thousands less per senior under the Ryan plan than under current policy. Critics say that would shift heavy costs to individual retirees. The government could always spend more than anticipated to meet changing realities, but at the cost of deeper deficits.
Speaking to donors who paid as much as $50,000 to have dinner with him, Ryan compared the United States with Europe, where a financial crisis has led to cuts in benefits for retirees. He said European lawmakers delayed action even though they saw impending problems and seniors paid the price.
"They ran out of road to kick the can down, and now they have a debt crisis," Ryan said here near Tampa. "Now, a debt crisis hit and those empty promises have become broken promises."
Ryan warned the same could happen here if the country doesn't get its hands around its own affairs.
"It doesn't have to be that way. We can turn this around," Ryan said.
Earlier in the day, Ryan introduced his 78-year-old mother to an audience of seniors at the world's largest retirement community and passionately defended a program that has provided old-age security for two generations of his own family.
"She planned her retirement around this promise," Ryan said as Betty Ryan Douglas looked on. "That's a promise we have to keep."
Kuhnhenn reported from Rochester, N.H. Associated Press writer Charles Babington in West Tisbury, Mass., and Calvin Woodward in Washington contributed to this report.
Nyad back in water for Cuba-Florida swim attempt
updated 11:39 PM EDT, Sat August 18, 2012
Havana, Cuba (CNN) -- Diana Nyad is back at it again -- once more in the waters off Havana and heading, she hopes, to Key West, Florida.
- NEW: A jellyfish stings Diana Nyad, but she is OK, her team says
- The American starts swimming off Cuba a day earlier than planned
- She hopes to swim 103 miles over several days to Florida
- The endurance athlete's three earlier attempts ended prematurely
The 62-year-old endurance athlete jumped into waters off Cuba on Saturday afternoon, a day earlier than she and her Xtreme Dream team had originally planned, according to her Twitter page. If all goes well, she will swim some 103 miles and 60 hours before arriving in the Florida Keys.
"Right now, (the water) is fantastic and so (the team) has been brainstorming and thinking, we've got to get out there," Nyad said at a Saturday news conference, explaining the decision to start early.
Shortly before 10:30 p.m. Saturday, nearly seven hours into her journey, a new Twitter message from Nyad's team indicated the swimmer had been "stung by a jellyfish." An update a few minutes later indicated she was stung at 8:40 p.m., "was treated and continued swimming."
"(Nyad) is OK and strong," the message said.
Nyad has tried three times before to venture across the Straits of Florida. Each attempt ended prematurely -- starting in 1978 when rocky seas left her battered, delirious and less than halfway toward her goal and twice last year, once done in by an 11-hour asthma attack and later thwarted by box jellyfish stings.
But those aborted swims haven't deterred her, and she insisted earlier this week that "I'm ready."
"I'm feeling some pressure," she said Friday. "I'm feeling tremendous inner pressure that this has got to be it, this has got to be the last time."
She's in the water without a physical shark cage, relying on electronic shark repellent and a team of divers to keep them away. Sharks are just one of the many challenges the American citizen will face, from the sheer physical strain to smacks of jellyfish and the whims of Mother Nature.
That latter consideration drove the decision to push up the scheduled Sunday start time.
The wind is predicted "to be getting really calm by (Sunday) morning and staying calm ... through Monday, and coming up a little bit on Tuesday but still just fine for us to get in," Nyad said.
The hope is to avoid deteriorating conditions caused by stronger winds expected Tuesday night and into Wednesday, which happens to be Nyad's 63rd birthday.
"We've got to get out there," she said.
In the 1970s, Nyad was unstoppable. In addition to winning multiple swimming marathons, she was one of the first women to encircle the island of Manhattan, and she holds the world's record for longest ocean swim -- 102.5 miles from the island of Bimini in the Bahamas to Jupiter, Florida.
She said Saturday that she was 8 years old when she first dreamed about the possibility of swimming across the Straits of Florida. -- At the time, she was in Cuba on a trip from her home in Florida in the 1950s, before Fidel Castro led a Communist takeover in Cuba and its relations with the United States soured.
"I used to stand on the beach and I said to my mother, 'I wonder if anybody could swim over there," Nyad recalled saying, while pointing to the Keys.
While admitting that she's a slower swimmer now than she once was, Nyad insists that in her 60s she still feels "vital (and) powerful" -- and definitely "not old." A successful swim ideally will inspire people her age and older not to let their age hinder them, Nyad said.
"When I walk up on that shore in Florida, I want millions of those AARP sisters and brothers to look at me and say, 'I'm going to go write that novel I thought it was too late to do. I'm going to go work in Africa on that farm that those people need help at. I'm going to adopt a child. It's not too late, I can still live my dreams,'" she said.
CNN's Matt Sloane contributed to this report.