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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In Nevada, Voting for \'None\' Is No Longer an Option


Voters in Nevada will have to make an actual choice, a federal judge there ruled on Wednesday.

To combat voter apathy after Watergate, Nevada essentially institutionalized the protest vote, allowing voters to choose “none of these candidates” in elections for statewide and presidential candidates.

But the ruling, by Judge Robert C. Jones of the United States District Court in Nevada, means it is almost certain to be left off the November ballot - which may help the Republican Party.

Mr. Jones ruled that because “none” can never win, offering that option on the ballot is unconstitutional.

In the complaint, obtained through Courthouse News Service, some of the plaintiffs, financed by the Republican National Committee, expressed concern that voters would protest by choosing “none of the above” â€" and be disenfranchised â€" when they would otherwise choose Mitt Romney and the Republican incumbent i n the competitive United States Senate race, Dean Heller. Two Electoral College electors for Mr. Romney are also on the list of plaintiffs, as are a registered Democrat and independent.

“None” has never won, but some believe it served as a spoiler in the 1998 Senate race. Harry Reid, now the Senate Democratic leader, beat John Ensign by 428 votes: 8,125 people voted for “none.”

The lawsuit was filed against Nevada's secretary of state, Ross Miller, whose office argued that voting for “none” was essentially the same as not voting, which citizens have always had the right to do. Mr. Miller, a Democrat, said in a statement that he is “planning an immediate and expedited appeal to protect the long-standing public interest of the ‘none of these candidates' option.”

Mr. Jones issued only an oral ruling, but promised to offer his written reasoning before Sept. 7, when ballots must be ready for printing.

A Petition to the White House: Give Up the Beer Recipe


Most Americans won't ever drink a beer at the White House, but some beer enthusiasts are hoping they'll soon be able to have a pint that tastes like its brew.

A petition has been started on the White House Web site asking that the recipe for the home-brewed White House Honey Ale be released to the public. More than 3,000 people have signed up so far, but that's still short of the 25,000 signatures required by Sept. 17 to receive an official response.

The honey ale is brewed with honey from the White House beehive and is one of three types of beer produced at the White House, in addition to a blonde ale and a honey porter. (According to the blog Obama Foodorama, Sam Kass, the assistant White House chef, says the porter is “unbelievably good.”) The first family foots the bill for the brewing equipment and production.

President Obama made history last year as the first president to b rew beer in the White House. Since then, the beer has been made mostly in small batches for special occasions (or campaign trips), and the recipe has been kept secret.

Beer enthusiasts have become so committed to obtaining the recipe for the honey ale that one Reddit user plotted this week to get it via a federal Freedom of Information Act request; however, the White House is not subject to the act.

Either way, residents of Alabama and Mississippi will be out of luck: home brewing is illegal in both states.

The Agenda: Placing Blame for Middle-Class Doldrums


We are in the midst of examining the major causes of the income slowdown over the past decade and beyond. As it happens, the Pew Research Center asked a more pointed version of this question in its recent poll on the middle class: Who's at fault?
@import url(http://graphics8.nytimes.com/projects/assets/agenda/agenda-inline.css);To the 85 percent of respondents who said that middle-class families were having a harder time maintaining their standard of living, Pew then asked how much people blamed each of the following groups “for the difficulties the middle class has faced in the past 10 years.” The possible answers were: a lot; a little; not at all; don't know.

Obama Promotes His Education Credentials, Putting Down Romney\'s


LAS VEGAS â€" It's back-to-school time, and President Obama has been all but handing out three-ring binders and pencil sharpeners this week, as he promotes his education credentials and slams those of his challenger, Mitt Romney.

Speaking to a raucous rally at a high school here, Mr. Obama accused his Republican opponent of dismissing concerns about crowded classrooms. Mr. Romney, the president said, would impose deep cuts on education funding, as part of the favor-the-rich Republican budget drafted by his running mate, Representative Paul D. Ryan.

“I've got a question for Governor Romney: How many teachers' jobs are worth another tax cut for millionaires and billionaires?” he said. “That's not who we are. That's not how we built the greatest economy and the strongest middle class in the world.”

Earlier, the president held a round table with three teachers at Canyon Springs High School, where one, Lori Eli zabeth Henrickson, told him that she worried that teeming classes deprived students of the attention they need to learn. Clark County, where Las Vegas is, has the largest average class sizes in the nation, Mr. Obama said.

“Governor Romney says we've got enough teachers; we don't need any more,” he said. “The way he talks about them, it seems as if he thinks they are a bunch of nameless government bureaucrats that we need to cut back on.”

The teacher-heavy crowd of 2,720, packed into a gymnasium draped in basketball banners, was one of the most enthusiastic of Mr. Obama's campaign so far. But he was also interrupted by a protester, whose angry questions were drowned out by chants of “four more years,” as security guards bundled him out of the room.

“That young man probably needed a good teacher,” Mr. Obama said.

On the second day of Mr. Obama's education swing, he shifted focus from higher to secondary educ ation, but kept up the combative tone. The president promoted his administration's granting of waivers to states from the testing requirements of the Bush-era education law, No Child Left Behind. He said he had tried to allocate federal money to rehire laid-off teachers, but had been stymied by House Republicans, including Mr. Ryan.

When the audience erupted in catcalls, he said, “Don't boo. Vote.”

To reinforce the president's education message in other states, the campaign released a new 30-second commercial called “Children,” which features an interview with parents in which they talk about the importance of smaller classes, while a narrator condemns Mr. Romney. It will be broadcast in Virginia and Ohio on Thursday.

The growing intensity of the campaign is evident in Mr. Obama's schedule, which will put him on the road next week, in the battleground states of Iowa, Colorado and Virginia, during the first two days of the Republican National Convent ion.

In elections past, candidates laid low during the conventions of their rivals. But such niceties have largely vanished in the last couple of cycles. Next week, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will campaign in Tampa, Fla., even as the Republicans gather there. Mr. Obama is not scheduled to campaign on the day Mr. Romney accepts the nomination.

The president will maintain his back-to-school theme. His destinations - Ames, Iowa; Fort Collins, Colo.; and Charlottesville, Va. - are home to Iowa State University, Colorado State University and the University of Virginia.

It was Mr. Obama's 6th visit to Nevada this year, and the 11th since he took office, symbolizing how fiercely he is fighting to hang on to its 6 electoral votes. He won Nevada over Senator John McCain by 12 points in 2008.

By rights, say some analysts, Mr. Obama should be in trouble here: the state has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country and is a national leader in f oreclosures. Few places have been harder hit by the housing crisis, the lingering nature of which was illustrated by a billboard on the route of Mr. Obama's motorcade in Reno on Tuesday.

“Mortgage Forgiveness Ends in 2012,” said the advertisement, promoting RenoShortSales.com, a company that specializes in liquidating houses with delinquent mortgages. It was referring to the expiration of a government program that allows homeowners to avoid paying taxes on loans forgiven by lenders, when they sell their homes.

On two previous visits to Nevada, Mr. Obama highlighted his response to the crisis, meeting with struggling homeowners and announcing a program to help people with good credit to refinance mortgages at low interest rates.

On this visit, though, Mr. Obama conspicuously failed to mention housing, aside from an oblique reference to Nevada's having “been through tougher times than most states.” The Obama campaign, it was clear, was intent to stick to its message of education.

Missouri Republicans Weigh In on Akin


Missouri residents who are active in the Republican Party are divided over Representative Todd Akin's decision to continue his campaign for the United States Senate, even as a chorus of party leaders urged him to throw in the towel.

The Republican establishment has turned against Mr. Akin in recent days after the six-term congressman said during a television interview on Sunday that women rarely get pregnant in cases of “legitimate rape.” He has been criticized across the country, and the comment has led state and national Republican leaders, including Mitt Romney, to distance themselves and pressure him to get out of the race.

And yet interviews on Tuesday with Republican state and county committee members across Missouri showed that, while few defended his remarks, not everyone thought they should end his political career. Some felt he deserved a second chance, saying the party was too quick to abandon one of it s own. Others expressed a growing frustration over what they saw as Washington politicians meddling in a Missouri affair.

“It's absolutely ridiculous,” said Winifred Gaston, chairwoman of the Bates County Republican Committee, who supported Mr. Akin in the three-way primary this month. “He misspoke. He apologized. That's it. What the national Republicans have in mind is beyond me.”

Ione Dines, an Akin supporter from Marshfield, Mo., and a member of the Missouri Republican State Committee, called Mr. Akin's office on Tuesday to encourage him to persevere. “If we do this to candidates, we're not going to have anybody who is worth anything run,” she said.

Officials at the Missouri Republican Party did not respond to requests for interviews.

Violet Corbett, chairwoman of the Johnson County Republican Central Committee who is also a member of the State Committee, said outsiders have underestimated how much support Mr. Akin has on a personal level. “We know him here,” said Ms. Corbett, who supported another candidate in the primary. “He's a good man.”

While she said she found Mr. Akin's comment offensive, she also expressed sympathy for the congressman. “Personally, knowing him as long as I have, I know he did not mean it,” she said. “It was a gaffe. And he has apologized.”

But Nadine Thurman, a member of the State Committee from Clarence, Mo., says the Republican establishment, which has refused to support Mr. Akin's campaign going forward, has made it difficult for him to continue what is expected to be an expensive race, regardless of his local support.

“I just have a feeling about this whole thing that Todd made this statement and some of these people are tickled to death that he did it,” she said about Republican leaders, a number of whom, she added, did not support Mr. Akin in the primary.

Many Republicans believe that the race against Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, could be one of the party's best shots at taking control of the Senate in November.

“I think they're jumping on this opportunity to get rid of him and get a stronger candidate,” Ms. Thurman added.

Still, it seems Missouri Republicans are not of one mind about who Mr. Akin's replacement would be, as internal battle lines begin re-emerging from the primary race, which ended just weeks ago.

“The people picked who they wanted,” said Charles Dickinson, the Wright County Republican chairman. “But you also have to see what's best for the Republican Party.”

He noted that many people - other county chairmen and chairwomen and state committee members - are waiting to see what Mr. Akin decides to do. And he stressed that it was Mr. Akin's decision.

Even so, Mr. Dickinson said he understood the national uproar.

“In this situation,” he said, “a Missouri affair affects the whole United States.”

Monica Davey contributed reporting

Romney Returns to His Mainstay: The Economy


BETTENDORF, Iowa - With the unwanted distractions of Representative Todd Akin's “legitimate rape” comments still swirling in the background on Wednesday, Mitt Romney returned to his political mainstay during a campaign stop at LeClaire Manufacturing here - hitting President Obama over the economy.

From the signage in the backdrop (“We Did Build It!”) to the shirts the company's employees wore (navy blue T-shirts, courtesy of the campaign, saying “Government didn't build my business - I did”), Mr. Romney's rally in Iowa was designed to return attention to comments Mr. Obama made last month, when he said, “If you've got a business - you didn't build that.”

The president was referring to the government infrastructure that he said helps businesses thrive. But the Romney campaign quickly pounced, seizing the remarks as a convenient shorthand to explain why, in their view, the economy is not growing as quickl y as it should.

Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who helped introduce Mr. Romney, said that he understood what went into creating a successful enterprise.

“Isn't it exciting to have someone running for the president who understands what it takes to build a stronger economy?” Ms. Reynolds said. “Mitt Romney understands that this economy runs on and was built by individual entrepreneurs pursing the American dream. President Obama's naïve economic policies have failed us.”

Mr. Romney also wasted no time before tearing into Mr. Obama.

“President Obama, bless his heart, has tried to substitute government for free people, and it has not worked, and it'll never work,” Mr. Romney said. “I mentioned he said he'd cut the deficit in half - he doubled it. He said he'd get people good jobs. Instead, we've gone 42 straight months with unemployment over 8 percent. Twenty-three million Americans out of work or stopped looking for w ork. It's inexcusable.”

He also echoed a point that both he and his running mate, Paul D. Ryan, have previously made on the trail: that individuals are not empowered by their government.

“That insight of the power of the individual is what led the founders of this country, in the founding documents of this nation, to write words that changed the world,” he said. “They said that our rights came from God, not from government, from God.”

Mr. Romney urged the crowd to be skeptical of government investments.

“We're finally going to have to stop spending at the government level more than we take in,” he said. “Let me tell you, you've got to beware of government bearing gifts because you're paying for those gifts.”

At one point, roughly midway through his speech, Mr. Romney was interrupted by a heckler.

“I'll answer your question in a moment, but if you'll sit down and let me speak, then I'll let you ask your question,” Mr. Romney told the rowdy man. “You know there is always an occasion to ask me questions. I'm happy to answer those questions, but only when we come to question-and-answer time.”

As the crowd drowned out the heckler with chants of “U.S.A.,” Mr. Romney added: “If that gentleman wants to wait outside, and ask me a question, I'm happy to answer it.”

After the event, however, Mr. Romney headed to a private area to do some local television interviews, and the heckler had already left the property, having been escorted out of the event by the police.

A Web Site That Aims to Help Manage Student Loans


I don't have student loans anymore (thank goodness). But I do recall that managing them was a challenge. How many loans did I have? How much was I paying in total? When would they all be paid off? Who is Sallie Mae, and why did I borrow so much money from her?

A new Web site called Loanlook.com aims to help current students and graduates manage their financial aid and loans with less confusion. The site allows users to access federal loans and grants, but will be expanded to include private loans in about a month. (Parents can also register to see information about PLUS loans taken out on behalf of their children.)

The site makes use of data that is provided on the National Student Loan Data System, the central database for student aid maintained by the federal Education Department, as well as your university (and any institutions you may have attended previously). But Loanlook allows the information to be displayed and a nalyzed in a more useful way, said Mark Rowland, vice president of information systems at Loanlook.

That all sounds promising. But Loanlook probably has some skepticism to overcome. That's because the site's parent company, Ceannate Corporation (formerly FMS Services), which provides various services under contract to the Education Department, also operates two other units, including one specializing in student loan debt collection.  So it's possible that if you somehow get behind on  your loans, it could be Loanlook's sister company that chases you for payments.

But Balaji Rajan, Ceannate's president and chief executive, said any concern that information given to Loanlook could somehow be used against the borrower by one of its other subsidiaries was unfounded. Ceannate's three subsidiaries are completely separate companies below the top executive level and can't use information given to one to assist another, he said. “Absolutely no data is shared or exchan ged between those companies,” he said.

He noted that many companies in the educational finance industry operate firms that work in different parts of the industry - say, making loans as well as servicing them and pursuing delinquent borrowers.

If  you are comfortable using Loanlook, you log in using the student aid PIN provided by the Education Department. Loanlook doesn't store the information when you use it, Mr. Rowland said. You must re-enter it each time you want updated loan information.

The site's dashboard provides a snapshot of your overall aid, including pie charts showing how much of the aid represents loans and how much is in grants, which don't have to be repaid; the total balance; and the average interest rate on the loans.

The site also lists the loans by amount, type and lender, and notes its status (in repayment, for instance).

A  potentially useful feature is the loan optimization tool. This gives you different scenarios, s howing, for example, how much you will save if you pay extra toward the principal, compared with a standard 10-year repayment plan. It's important to note, however, that Loanlook can't actually arrange your preferred payment plan for you. It's up to you to contact the loan servicer. And it's important that users do so, Mr. Rowland said, to make sure payments are properly applied. In most cases, without specific instructions, servicers simply apply extra payments to future monthly payments, rather than reducing the loan balance.

The site also offers a live chat feature, which connects users with counselors who can help answer questions about loans and repayment options. The overall idea behind Loanlook is to help students stay current on their loans by providing easily accessible information.  If you're behind on your loans, the site will direct you to contact your servicer to discuss ways to get back on track.

The site also offers a section on loan records, whic h allows you to upload documents like promissory notes so you can easily access them in one place. This section also includes contacts for the servicers of your loans and provides a space for you to include notes about your conversations with them. (So if, for example, a servicer agrees to a forbearance, you have a record of that call.)

The site includes, on each page, a snapshot of the total debt due, the date of your last payment and a running tally of the daily interest accrued.

The site is developing a tool aimed at helping high school students figure what sort of salary they might expect in different metropolitan areas after graduating with a certain type of degree, to see if they can afford the amount they're expecting to borrow. The tool is being fleshed out with additional economic data to broaden its usefulness, Mr. Rowland said.

Later this year, the site will add more functions, including the ability to make a loan payment. The site is free curren tly, but there will be a per-transaction fee added for users who want the payment capability.

Would you be comfortable using Loanlook?

Akin Remarks Push Gender Issues to Center Stage


Just days before Mitt Romney formally assumes the leadership of his party, he and his Republican colleagues are once again confronting the party's long-standing difficulty attracting the support of women - a demographic reality that could cost Mr. Romney the White House.

Representative Todd Akin's refusal to step aside in the Missouri Senate race in the wake of his comments about rape and pregnancy has forced gender issues back into the political conversation just as Mr. Romney was hoping to refocus it on his personal story and the nation's struggling economy.

And the Republican Party's decision this week to endorse an anti-abortion plank at its convention - without an exception for rape - raises new questions about whether, and how, Mr. Romney and his running mate, Paul D. Ryan, can close the party's gap in support among women.

In an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Wedn esday, President Obama leads Mr. Romney among women by 10 percentage points, 51 percent to 41 percent.

In the last 24 hours, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have all but ignored the broader issues of abortion and gender politics on the trail. The subject did not come up at a joint town-hall-style meeting in New Hampshire on Monday morning, and Mr. Ryan did not bring up the issue at a rally in Roanoke, Va., Wednesday morning.

Mr. Ryan, who co-sponsored a bill with Mr. Akin that aimed to restrict the definition of rape, was pressed on Mr. Akin's comments in a television interview Wednesday morning. Mr. Ryan declared that “rape is rape, and there's no splitting hairs over rape.” He defended his record on abortion but said Mr. Romney would set policy as president.

“I'm proud of my pro-life record. And I stand by my pro-life record in Congress,” Mr. Ryan said on Pittsburgh's KDKA-TV. “It's something I'm proud of. But Mitt Romney i s the top of the ticket and Mitt Romney will be president, and he will set the policy of the Romney administration.”

Democrats have seized on the Akin comments - which have been condemned by Mr. Romney and most Republican leaders - much the way they did when the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called the contraception activist Sandra Fluke “a slut.” Democrats announced on Wednesday that Ms. Fluke would speak at the Democratic convention in Charlotte next month.

The president's team had already been running ads aimed at convincing women that Mr. Romney would undermine abortion rights and cut funding for contraception and women's health services. Now, the Democratic campaign is hoping those messages have even more impact.

In one Obama ad, a woman says: “I've never felt this way before, but it's a scary time to be a woman. Mitt Romney is just so out of touch.”

Emily's List, a campaign group that promotes Democratic women, sought to link a host of House Republicans to Mr. Akin's views. The group singled out 13 House Republicans - including one freshman woman, Vicky Hartzler of Missouri - who are all being challenged by a Democratic woman who favors abortion rights. The 13 Republicans all co-sponsored anti-abortion legislation last year that sought to narrow the exemption for federal funding from rape to “forcible rape.”

“I wish Todd Akin's backwards thinking made him an outlier,” said Emily's List president, Stephanie Schriock. “But the truth is, he's totally in line with today's Republican Party.”

Top aides to Mr. Romney have criticized the abortion ads as inaccurate and misleading, noting that Mr. Romney has always supported keeping abortion legal in cases of rape and incest. But after Mr. Akin's comments and the party's platform actions, it is not clear whether Mr. Romney's campaign plans new efforts to reach out to women.

Republican aides declined to discuss Mr. Akin's situat ion or the party platform, referring questions about Mr. Akin to the public comments Mr. Romney has made in interviews. In a statement issued Tuesday, Mr. Romney called on him to step aside.

“Todd Akin's comments were offensive and wrong, and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country,” Mr. Romney said. “His fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race.”

Other Republicans, who are keenly aware of the damage that Mr. Akin's comments on rape could do to the party's support among women, have been quick to condemn his choice of words. Representative Jo Ann Emerson, a nine-term Republican from Missouri, came out strongly against her House colleague.

“Todd Akin made a reprehensible, inexcusable and dangerous comment,” she said in a statement. “He was wrong to say what he did about rape, and the ignorance of that view has no place in our party, in our culture or in our country.”

The issue of how to narrow the gender gap was always going to be difficult for Mr. Romney, whose passed up an opportunity to put another woman on his ticket by picking Mr. Ryan, the House budget chairman, as his running mate.

Instead, Republican convention planners are hoping to present a series of leading women as speakers when the convention starts in Tampa, Fla., on Monday. Chief among them is Ann Romney, whose popularity easily exceeds her husband's and who is scheduled to speak on Monday evening.

Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Gov. Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, will each have prominent speaking roles at the convention, officials announced this month.

“They are some of our party's brightest stars, who have governed and led effectively and admirably in their respective roles,” Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said.

Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and the party's 2008 vice-presidential nominee, will not speak at the convention. But in an indication of how little support Mr. Akin has, even among conservatives, Ms. Palin called on Mr. Akin to step aside Tuesday.

“We have to think, well, what's another option? Is a third party another option?” Ms. Palin said on Fox News's “On the Record” program. “If it is, let's go. The status quo has got to go.”

But Mr. Romney's choice of Mr. Ryan has also complicated his campaign's outreach to women by adding Mr. Ryan's record in Congress to the list of positions that Mr. Romney must explain and defend.

In addition to the bill he co-sponsored with Mr. Akin that would have restricted the definition of rape, Mr. Ryan also voted for dozens of bills that sought to oppose or restrict abortion rights, earning him high marks with groups that advocate against abortion.

Now that Mr. Ryan is part of the R epublican ticket, Mr. Romney and his campaign strategists must find a way to incorporate his record on gender issues into the campaign's broader message aimed at women.

Most New Long-Term Care Claims Are Filed by Women


While deciding to purchase long-term care insurance is a complex decision, it is one that women, in particular, may want to spend some time considering. Nearly two-thirds of new claims under long-term care policies in 2011 were made by women, according to the latest data from an industry group.

The data was reported by the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance in its annual “sourcebook” released this summer.

Women have longer life expectancies than men, and are more likely to live alone at advanced ages, said Jesse Slome, the association's executive director. “Women live longer and are more likely to ultimately have a need for long-term care,” he said.

At the same time, women have lower incomes than men on average, so affording long-term care insurance can be more challenging for them, according to the AARP.

But rates for long-term care insurance currently are u nisex, Mr. Slome said. That is, despite the difference in use of the benefits, a single, 65-year-old man living alone will pay the same rate as a single, 65-year-old woman living alone.

The long-term care association's report notes that the largest open claim, filed by a woman who has been receiving benefits under her policy for 15 years, had reached $1.7 million in benefits.

The report also noted that home care is becoming increasingly prevalent: last year, half of new claims filed were for home health care. New claims filed by women receiving home care represented about a third of all new claims last year.

Alzheimer's disease was the leading cause of filing claims for a nursing home or assisted living community, and cancer was the top cause for claims that began at home.

Although about a quarter of claims begin when the policyholder is age 70 to 79, most claims - nearly 66 percent - begin when the holder is 80 or older.

Have you considered buy ing long-term care insurance? Do you think it is more important to have it if you are a woman?

Ryan Pressed to Explain Position on Rape and Abortion


Representative Paul D. Ryan sought to distance himself from Todd Akin, his House colleague, on Wednesday by condemning his comments about rape, even while deflecting questions about the meaning of “forcible rape.”

He was pressed on the issue on his campaign plane after he did not directly confront the question in a television interview earlier, with the Pittsburgh television station KDKA.

Not long after that interview was broadcast, Mr. Ryan made his first visit to the traveling press corps at the back of his campaign plane Wednesday, where he was asked about his prior support of anti-abortion laws that did not include an exception in an instance of rape. Mitt Romney supports such exceptions, as well as for incest and to save a pregnant woman's life.

“I'm proud of my record,'' Mr. Ryan said. “Mitt Romney is going to be the president. The president sets policy. His policy is ‘except for rape, incest a nd the life of the mother.' I'm comfortable with it because it's a step in the right direction. I'm going to leave it at that.''

Asked about a bill Mr. Ryan co-sponsored with other Republicans, including Mr. Akin, to prohibit federal funding of abortion except in certain cases including “forcible rape'' â€" language that women's health advocates said attempted to narrow the definition of rape â€" he pointed out 16 Democrats also voted for the 2011 bill.

“That bill passed by 251 votes, it's bipartisan,'' Mr. Ryan said. It was blocked from becoming law by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Mr. Ryan confirmed reports that he had spoken with Mr. Akin to add his voice to the chorus of Republican leaders calling on him to quit the Missouri Senate race.

“It was as you would imagine,'' he said of the call. “I'll keep it between us.'' He said he agreed with the Missouri Republican delegation that Mr. Akin “should have dropped out of the race,'' adding: “But has has not. He's going to run his campaign and w'ell run ours.''

As Mr. Ryan was asked follow-up questions about his prior opposition to a rape exception in abortion laws, an aide cut him off, and he withdrew to the front of the plane, bearing a plate of cookies he had offered to reporters. It was his first on-the-record conversation with members of his traveling press corps.

Asked in the Pittsburgh television interview what the 2011 bill meant by “forcible rape,” Mr. Ryan interrupted. “Rape is rape,'' he said. “Rape is rape, period. End of story.''

“So that forcible rape language meant nothing to you at the time?” Mr. Ryan was asked.

“Rape is rape and there's no splitting hairs over rape,” Mr. Ryan said.

Va. Baker Is in the Spotlight at Ryan Rally


ROANOKE, Va. - Joe the Plumber, meet Chris the Baker.

The Republican ticket has embraced a new small-business hero and on Wednesday, the owner of a bakery who last week turned away Vice President Joseph R. Biden and introduced Representative Paul D. Ryan at a rally in this city where President Obama uttered his “you didn't build that” remark.

Chris McMurray, the owner of Crumb and Get It Cookie Company with his wife, told a crowd at another small business, a hardware store, “We are gathered here today to send a message to the Obama-Biden team that we did build it.''

Mr. McMurray said the Biden campaign approached him to ask if the vice president could drop by his cookie shop while campaig ning, and he replied, “Nothing personal, but I just happened to disagree with the president and the vice president on a few things.”

The story vaulted from local news to the Drudge Report and conservative blogs, and voila, Mr. McMurray became the latest small business owner spotlighted by the Romney-Ryan campaign in a month-long hammering of Mr. Obama for supposed anti-business attitudes and policies.

Fact-checkers and the Obama campaign complain that Republicans are willfully twisting the president's remark â€" he was referring to government investment in infrastructure, not denying entrepreneurs credit for their companies â€" but the line become just one of many yanked from context in an intensely heated political season.

Mr. Ryan's account of Mr. Obama's remarks continued the misrepresentation of what the president said on July 13 in front of a Roanoke fire house. “He did say if you have a small business, you did no t build that, someone else did,'' Mr. Ryan said, after thanking Mr. McMurray for his spirited introduction, which had the crowd chanting “We built it! We built it!''

“He just gave my speech,'' Mr. Ryan said. “I'm voting for that guy, for Chris.''

It's clear Mr. Obama's literal meaning is no longer the issue; the line has grown long political legs because for the Romney-Ryan team it is emblematic of the broad choice in November: between Mr. Romney's business success and Mr. Obama's desire to raise taxes on the highest earners, which Republicans say will hamper “job creators.''

“The president makes these comments that kind of reveals his mindset, his philosophy of government,'' Mr. Ryan said. “It tells us that he believes in a government-centered society with a government-driven economy. That doesn't work. It never has worked. That's what Europe has and look at what it's doing to Europe.''

It was Mr. Ryan's fourth day campaigning in Virgi nia, a state Mr. Obama won in 2008, since Mitt Romney announced his selection as his running mate.

“You deliver Virginia, you save the American idea,” he said.

Akin Defies Calls to Step Down in TV Interviews


Representative Todd Akin continued to defy Republican party leaders Wednesday morning, reiterating his intentions to stay in the race against Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri during appearances on morning news shows.

In an appearance on NBC's “Today” show Mr. Akin said that he had received a call from Paul Ryan, the presumptive vice-presidential candidate, asking him to bow out of the race. “He advised me that it would be good for me to step down,” Mr. Akin said. “I told him that I was going to be looking at this very seriously, trying to weigh all the different points on this.”

Mr. Akin also took his message to ABC's “Good Morning America” saying he would not be bullied from the race. “It makes me uncomfortable to think that the party bosses are going to dictate who runs as opposed to the election process,” he said.

Mr. Akin touched off a firestorm of criticism after he said in a television interview on Sunday that in instances of what he called “legitimate rape,” women's bodies somehow blocked an unwanted pregnancy. Since then, Republican leaders, including Mitt Romney, have called on Mr. Akin to step down.

“Todd Akin's comments were offensive and wrong and he should very seriously consider what course would be in the best interest of our country,” Mr. Romney said in a statement Tuesday. “Today, his fellow Missourians urged him to step aside, and I think he should accept their counsel and exit the Senate race.”

Wednesday Reading: When Your Child\'s Diet Changes Yours


A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

The Early Word: Renegade


Today's Times

  • Representative Todd Akin on Tuesday defied his party's leaders and ignored a deadline for dropping out of Missouri's Senate race, Jonathan Weisman writes. Mr. Akin's decision came on the same day the Republican Party's platform committee endorsed a constitutional ban on abortion that does not include an explicit exception for rape.
  • Mr. Akin's record on abortion is largely indistinguishable from that of most of his Republican House colleagues, even as members of the House leadership have denounced the lawmaker's remarks, Jennifer Steinhauer reports. Restricting abortion rights has been viewed as one of their top legislative priorities, and Democrats are planning to highlight the theme as the campaign season rolls on.
  • The attention and controversy generated by reports that Representative Kevin Yoder, Republican of Kansas, had gone skinny-dipping on a trip to Israel last summ er cast an unwanted spotlight once again on the practice of private groups paying for Congressional trips, Eric Lichtblau and Jodi Rudoren report.
  • Senator Scott P. Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, is locked in a dead heat in the nation's most expensive Senate race, and he is distancing himself from the Republican presidential ticket in an effort to erase the notion of party politics from public consciousness, Katharine Q. Seelye reports.
  • President Obama took to the road on Tuesday to promote his record on education, presenting himself as the lucky product of affordable schooling and his opponent as the enemy of it. Mark Landler reports that the president's remarks showcased his methodical drive to make the election a stark choice between him and Mitt Romney on tax policy, Medicare and education â€" anything but the economy.
  • Mr. Romney's promise to restore $716 billion that he says President Obama “robbed” from Medicar e has some health care experts puzzled, as repealing the savings would hasten the insolvency of Medicare by eight years, Jackie Calmes reports.

Around the Web

  • James O'Keefe, a conservative activist who was arrested after trying to tamper with the phones in a Democratic lawmaker's office, will be headlining an exclusive luncheon at the Republican National Convention, Politico reports.
  • The Hill has released its annual ranking of the 50 wealthiest lawmakers.