CLINTON — Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan agreed that President Barack Obama inherited an economic “mess” when he took office, but he told a crowd gathered Tuesday at the Clinton County Courthouse that Obama has failed to put the economy back on the right track.

“We can’t afford another four years like the last four years,” said Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman and running mate of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Ryan made reference to the Midwestern roots shared by him and his wife, Jana, whose mother was born and raised in Clinton. Ryan said Midwesterners live within their means and the federal government needs to do the same.

About 700 supporters turned out for the Clinton event.

An overflow crowd greeted Ryan at a stop later at Elly’s Tea and Coffee House in Muscatine. He started the two-day eastern Iowa swing Monday night in Dubuque and ended with a rally later Tuesday in Burlington.

After the Muscatine event, Ryan did a battery of local media interviews against a Mississippi River backdrop, including a seven-minute session with the Quad-City Times.

Ryan told the Times that two criteria should be used when evaluating whether to eliminate existing tax breaks to help pay for an across-the-board rate cut. He said the wealthy shouldn’t be able to shelter as much of their income, and that tax breaks benefitting just a few should be targeted.

“Look at all the various tax expenditures and start with two criteria,” he said. “Narrow things and the wealthy.”

Romney has proposed a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut, but he has come under criticism from Obama’s campaign, which has said the bulk of the proceeds would go to upper-income Americans, while eliminating tax breaks to pay for the rate cuts would hurt average income people.

A study by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, often cited by the president, said the Romney plan would necessitate a tax increase on middle-income Americans because there aren’t enough tax breaks in the code to offset the cost of the rate cuts.

The Romney campaign has disputed the study, with critics saying it made too many assumptions and doesn’t adequately take into account the stimulative impact the tax cuts would have on the economy. But as it seeks to sell its plan in the closing days of the election — and maintain the pledge that they would make a dent in the growing national debt — the GOP ticket is being pressed to add details to its plan.

Ryan said the key is not to raise taxes rates on the middle class but to cut them.

At the Clinton event, Ryan took questions from the crowd, including one from a woman who Ryan said he chose because she was wearing a Green Bay Packers shirt. The woman asked Ryan why the campaign hasn’t offered more specifics about how it would fix the economy.

Ryan responded by going through some of the Romney/Ryan ticket’s plans, including making the nation more energy independent by approving the proposed Keystone pipeline project, which would carry oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.

After the Clinton event, the Obama campaign jumped on the question Ryan was asked.

“Congressman Ryan can’t attend his own campaign rallies without being called out for failing to provide specifics about what Mitt Romney would do if elected,” the statement read. “That’s because just one day before the first debate, Mitt Romney has refused to say which deductions he’d cut for the middle class in order to pay for his $250,000 tax cuts for multimillionaires. And he’s refused to say how he’d replace Obamacare or Wall Street reform to protect middle-class families or prevent the big banks from writing their own rules again.”

Ryan spoke as a large “debt clock” showed the increasing national debt ticked behind him and said the government has a “moral obligation” to solve the debt crisis.

James Witt of Stephenson County, Ill., pointed to the ticking national debt clock to explain his support of the Romney-Ryan ticket.

“That’s my grandchildren we’re talking about,” he said.

Ron Kopko of Cordova, Ill., got Ryan’s autograph on a campaign sign and said he advised Ryan that Romney should be tough on Obama during their first debate tonight. He also said Obama has been weak on foreign policy.

“Half the world already hates us, and now they don’t even respect us anymore,” he said.