Mary Altaffer, Associated Press
POWELL, Ohio — Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney declared Saturday that "women need our help" as he promised to promote women-led businesses should he defeat President Barack Obama in November's election.
The appeal came as the former Massachusetts governor tried to shrug off a series of unwanted distractions before the Republican convention opens Monday in Florida.
"Just a word to the women entrepreneurs out there, if we become president and vice president, we want to speak to you, we want to help you," Romney said with running mate Paul Ryan at his side during an outdoor rally that drew an estimated 5,000 people to the Columbus area. "Women in this country are more likely to start businesses than men. Women need our help."
While the comments were focused on women entrepreneurs, the promise comes as Romney tries to close Obama's perceived advantage among female voters. Women's issues have played a prominent role in the presidential contest. Republicans faced difficult questions this week about the party's position on abortion after a Missouri Senate candidate suggested that women's bodies can prevent pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape."
Both parties hope to use their conventions to appeal to female voters. The Republican convention, in particular, will feature high-profile women such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. Planners also shifted the speaking slot for Romney's wife, Ann, to ensure network television coverage of her speech.
Romney's comments about wanting to help businesswoman came less than 24 hours after he raised the discredited rumor that Obama wasn't born in the United States. The remark, and Romney's efforts to explain it, overshadowed his economic message as he campaigned near his Michigan birthplace on Friday.
Romney did not repeat the remark on Saturday, but instead assailed the Democratic incumbent for failing to deliver on his campaign promises.
"I can almost read his speech now. It'll be filled with promises and tell people how wonderful things are," Romney said of the speech Obama will give at the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina next month. "It is not his words people have to listen to. It's his action and his record. And if they look at that, they'll take him out of the office and put people into the office who'll actually get America going again."
At the same time, Obama used his weekend radio and Internet address and a new TV ad to highlight Romney's plans for the Medicare health program for seniors.
Obama doesn't mention his Republican challenger in the radio address but says the Medicare program is about keeping promises to millions of seniors who have put in a lifetime of hard work.
His new 30-second TV ad says Romney "would break that promise" and replace the current Medicare system with a voucher program that wouldn't keep up with costs.
"Insurance companies could just keep raising rates," says the new ad, which was airing in Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams called the ad "another false attack from a desperate president." Williams said Romney is the one who would reverse billions of dollars in cuts to Medicare by Obama and protect the program for current beneficiaries and future retirees.
Romney's Ohio rally was expected to be his final public appearance before the Republican National Convention opens Monday in Tampa, Fla., where the former Massachusetts governor will formally accept the presidential nomination.
While GOP officials suggest the momentum is on their side heading into the crucial period, Romney and his party have faced tough questions in recent weeks on Medicare and abortion.
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