In the presidential race, the Republican ticket, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, have spoken much more about poverty than the Democratic ticket, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Since poverty is traditionally a Democratic issue, the stark difference has surprised many.
In the three presidential debates, Romney used the word "poor" seven times and the word "poverty" six times. In the vice presidential debate, Ryan said "poverty" eight times and mentioned "the poor" once. Obama and Biden never mentioned poverty or the poor in any of the debates.
On Wednesday, Ryan delivered a 25 minute address at Cleveland State University in Ohio devoted exclusively to the topic of poverty, unusual in a campaign season that has been mostly focused on addressing the problems of the middle class.
Romney and Ryan generally discuss poverty in five different contexts.
First, they mention poverty statistics when criticizing Obama's record as president.
For example in the first debate, Romney said Obama's presidency "is not working, and the proof of that is 23 million people out of work. The proof of that is 1 out of 6 people in poverty. The proof of that is we've gone from 32 million on food stamps to 47 million on food stamps."
Second, they mention poverty when discussing their plan for reforming Medicaid, a government health insurance program for the poor. Romney and Ryan want to block grant the program, which means states would be provided with the funds but would be given flexibility in how the program would be implemented.
"We can care for our own poor in so much better and more effective a way than having the federal government tell us how to care for our poor," Romney said about state governments in the first debate.
Third, poverty is discussed by Romney and Ryan in relation to the high unemployment rate and their plans for job growth.
In the third presidential debate, Ryan said the Romney plan is "about getting 12 million jobs, higher take-home pay, getting people out of poverty into the middle class."
Fourth, Romney and Ryan mention poverty in relation to school-choice reforms.
In speaking about education in his Wednesday speech on poverty, Ryan said, "We owe every child a chance to succeed. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, we owe them 'an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life.' Upward mobility is the central promise of life in America. But right now, America's engines of upward mobility aren't working the way they should."
And fifth, Romney and Ryan mention the poor when criticizing the Obama administration's birth control mandate. The mandate has a religious exemption, but that is so narrow that faith-based organizations that seek to alleviate poverty are not exempt. Many Catholic groups have complained that Obama is forcing them to choose between violating the teaching of their faith and helping the poor.
"Nothing undermines the essential and honorable work these groups do quite like the abuse of government power," Ryan said in his poverty speech. "Take what happened this past January, when the Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules requiring Catholic hospitals, charities and universities to violate their deepest principles. Never mind your own conscience, they were basically told – from now on you're going to do things the government's way. This mandate isn't just a threat to religious charities. It's a threat to all those who turn to them in times of need. In the name of strengthening our safety net, this mandate and others will weaken it."
In a Monday editorial for The Washington Examiner, conservative columnist Byron York also noticed that Romney and Ryan are the only ticket that speaks often about the poor. York believes that Obama does not speak often about poverty because it is inconsistent with his campaign theme that things are getting better.
"In short, even though the fight against poverty has long been associated with Democrats, and even though he is in a tight re-election race, and even though poverty is a particularly compelling problem at the moment, Barack Obama ignores the issue when it comes time to campaign. A sky-high poverty rate doesn't fit his theme that things are getting better. So he doesn't talk about it," York wrote.