TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — With the Republican National Convention at last in full-throated roar, nominee Mitt Romney and his team reached out Wednesday to critical voting groups -- veterans, Hispanics and women -- while gleefully mocking the man he is out to defeat in November.
Photos: RNC 2012 in Tampa, Fla.
The GOP nominee ducked out of his own convention in Tampa to tell the American Legion Convention in Indianapolis that a Romney administration would "do better" by a military threatened with "reckless defense cuts" and by veterans hungry for jobs
"This president's biggest failure is that he's not delivered those jobs," Romney said. "As president, I will get America to work again."
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a top Hispanic voice in the GOP, made the rounds of morning talk shows to defend the GOP nominee's policies. And Ann Romney and Janna Ryan, the wife of Romney's running mate, teamed up to headline a "Women for Romney" fundraiser.
At a women's event, Mrs. Romney offered her husband as "the one person who is going to turn this country around," and promised that her husband would keep in mind the needs of women and families, if elected. Later, she attended a Latino Coalition lunch, where son Craig addressed guests in Spanish, and described his father as "a man you can trust."
Mrs. Romney told the Latino crowd that Democrats try to make it look like Republicans "don't care about this community. That's not true. We very much care about this community."
Latinos, she said, "are mistaken if they think they are going to be better off" if President Barack Obama wins re-election, she said.
The politics played out as Hurricane Isaac blew ashore on the Gulf Coast, weakening to a tropical storm by afternoon. Officials in Louisiana said that as of midday Wednesday, New Orleans' flood protection system was holding up as Isaac moved through the area.
Romney opened his remarks to the veterans by saying that while it appeared Isaac would not inflict the kind of damage Hurricane Katrina caused seven years ago, "this must be a heavy burden."
"Our country must do all we can to help them recover," he said. Romney was considering whether to visit the Gulf Coast after Isaac moves through, but no decision had been made, aides said.
The main draw for Wednesday night's convention session is vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, the 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman and author of a tough budget that remakes the way the government spends money.
"I think people are going to like what they see because we are offering specific, bold solutions to get people back to work, to get this country back on the right track," Ryan said in a taped interview with WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee. He acknowledged having a stricter anti-abortion stance than Romney, but said he's comfortable with the GOP nominee's position "because it's a vast improvement on the status quo."
Ryan tested the microphones in the hall at midday as his children had fun at the podium.
Rubio, interviewed on "CBS This Morning," held out Ryan as a serious policy thinker who's "going to have a bunch of new fans across this country" after he speaks.
Obama's re-election campaign released an online video casting Ryan, who is hugely popular with conservatives, as a politician from a "bygone era" whose budget proposals threaten Medicare and would gut funding for Planned Parenthood.
A poll by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post found Americans deeply divided about Ryan, whom they described as conservative, intelligent, fake, phony.
Romney's nomination now official, he was free at last to start dipping into his general-election pot of campaign cash.
"We're excited that now he's going to be able to spend money, both in English and in Spanish, to explain to people how his policies will help grow the economy, help small business, help people have the confidence to invest in the future," Rubio said."
To ensure the cash keeps rolling in, Ann Romney emailed supporters a fundraising appeal that echoed her Tuesday night speech to the convention.
"This man will not fail," she promised in the plea.
Obama, for his part, was courting another key voting group -- young voters -- with a second day of campaigning in college towns. He had hoped to speak on the University of Virginia campus, but the school rejected that idea, saying it would disrupt classes on the second day of the semester. He'll speak in an off-campus pavilion instead.
Beyond Ryan, Wednesday's lineup includes 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Romney speaks Thursday night to bring down the curtain-closing balloons. Obama's Democratic National Convention follows next week in Charlotte, N.C.
Rice, warming up for her speech, said the voice of the United States in world affairs "has been muted" under this president, creating a chaotic and dangerous security environment. She spoke on "CBS This Morning."
Opinion polls, however, show Obama getting high marks on national security after
ending the war in Iraq, drawing down the conflict in Afghanistan and ordering the killing of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
Romney made his debut at the convention two days before his own speech, rousing the crowd into cheers as he took the stage briefly to share a kiss with his wife after she spoke. Ann Romney's prime-time speech was in large measure an outreach to female voters as she declared her husband "will not let us down" if elected president.
Her tone was intimate as she spoke about the struggles of working families: "If you listen carefully, you'll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. It's how it is, isn't it? It's the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right."
Obama's allies did their best to counter Romney and the Republicans.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said of Mrs. Romney's appeal to women: "Surrounding yourself with strong women is a great thing, but it doesn't change your positions."
Psaki called Romney and Ryan "the two most unpopular presidential nominee and vice presidential nominee in modern history. They have two days to rebrand who they are, what they stand for."
First lady Michelle Obama traveled to New York to promote her healthy-living initiatives while visiting "The Dr. Oz Show" and Rachael Ray's talk show. The programs will air next month, closer to the election.
Mrs. Obama also was making a guest appearance on Wednesday's "Late Show with David Letterman."
Among veterans, Gallup's tracking poll over the month of August has shown Romney leads Obama, 55 percent to 38 percent. Obama has the advantage among women, and Hispanics strongly favor Obama.
Romney and his party have been seeking to win a bigger share of Hispanic votes by emphasizing proposals to fix the economy rather than ease their positions on immigration.
Polls find the economy is overwhelmingly the dominant issue in the race and voters narrowly favor Romney to handle it. In an AP-GfK poll taken Aug. 16-20, some 48 percent of registered voters said they trust Romney more on economic issues, to 44 percent for Obama. However, a Washington Post-ABC News in the days immediately before the convention found that 61 percent of registered voters said Obama was more likable, while 27 percent said Romney.
Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Brian Bakst, Thomas Beaumont, Tamara Lush, Brendan Farrington, Julie Mazziotta, Steve Peoples, Kasie Hunt and Philip Elliott in Florida and Stephen Ohlemacher, Alicia A. Caldwell and Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.