BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
There was a time just a few months ago that some analysts believed U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, of Johnson City, would make presidential candidate Mitt Romney's short list for potential vic-presidential running mates.
Although he has denied having any interest in the position, Roe does not deny having a high level of interest in the campaign for the presidency.
That is why he experienced Thursday's vice presidential debate not from the stage, but from a close vantage point in the audience in Danville, Ky.
"It's totally different -- being there in person rather than watching it on TV," the congressman said Friday morning in an interview.
Roe said he enjoyed forming his own opinion, without a "talking head" to cloud the issues.
His opinion, as with many other Republicans, was that Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan won the debate.
"I thought he was a little nervous when he started out; I certainly would have been. But as the debate continued on, he got stronger and stronger," Roe said. "He closed the show in the last 15 minutes."
Winning or losing, however, "hardly matters," he said.
Instead, Roe is certain the VP debate is all about the answer to one question: "Could one of these men be president of the United States?"
After Thursday, Roe said he was confident the question was answered positively for Ryan.
"Do you have someone who's strong enough, bright enough, intellectual enough? I think that answer is a resounding, 'Yes,'" he said.
During the debate, Roe was seated on the third row, directly behind Ryan's wife and mother and beside Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul in a relatively small crowd of about 500.
This position gave Roe a direct view of Ryan and a profile of Vice President Joe Biden, he said.
During the debate, Roe said, he was looking for answers on two issues: economic growth and the future of Social Security and Medicare.
"The only thing I heard [Vice President Biden] say was, he wanted to raise taxes on 120,000 very rich people, which is not going to solve our problem," Roe said.
From Ryan, however, Roe said he heard five distinct ways that the Republican Party would increase economic growth:
* increase the number of people working and paying taxes;
* reduce tax rates by 20 percent;
* reduce corporate taxes;
* put all tax loopholes on the table to be cut, and
* limit deductions.
SPECIFICS FROM CONGRESS
Many have been critical of the Romney/Ryan candidacy's lack of specifics on how those goals could be accomplished, but Roe said it is only appropriate to present these ideas without the absolute specifics.
"That's as specific as anybody can get," he said, explaining that any specifics -- on health care or the economy -- must come thorough Congress, from both sides of the aisle.
"You can't say I'm going to do A, B and C. That's got to come out of Congress," he said.
"Somebody who has said absolutely nothing ... is the Democrats," he later added. "I mean, I didn't hear anything last night.
"I would challenge anybody to go back and review that tape."
As for the second issue on which he hoped to hear answers, Roe said he listened for ways to address the increasing expenses of Medicare.
"These are facts -- these are not me making this up," he said before presenting the following items:
* 10,000 individuals turn 65 years old every day;
* the financial base of those paying Social Security continues to shrink each year, with more baby boomers retiring or continuing to work while receiving Medicare; and
* the U.S. spent $228 million more than the government took in in premiums last year.
"I listened to what Vice President Biden's answer was for that,"Roe said. "His was, 'We took $716 billion out of the Medicare program and that shored it up.'
"I still haven't figured out that math, where you can take that much money out of a program and make it better."
As for Ryan, Roe said he agrees with the Wisconsin congressman's support of the Premium Support Plan.
"[Ryan] said, 'My mother's on Medicare, and we're going to save it," Roe noted.
The New York Times said in an article that experts believe this plan would "limit the government's open-ended financial commitment to the program."