Evan Vucci, Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney pledged to help women entrepreneurs and innovators eager to create small businesses on Saturday in an economy-themed countdown to the Republican National Convention, taking shape in a city bristling with security and bracing for a possible hurricane.
"Women in this country are more likely to start businesses than men. Women need our help," said the Republican presidential challenger, eager to relegate recent controversy over abortion to the sidelines and make the nation's slow economic recovery the dominant issue of his convention week.
The former Massachusetts governor campaigned with running mate Paul Ryan in battleground Ohio as delegates arrived in Florida by the planeload. Across town, technicians completed the conversion of a hockey arena along Tampa Bay into a red, white and blue-themed convention hall.
Weather permitting, the convention opens Monday with quick ratification of a conservative platform expected, followed by Romney's nomination in a traditional roll call of the states timed for network evening news coverage. It ends Thursday with his acceptance speech, a prime-time appearance aides hope will propel him into a successful fall campaign and eventually, the White House.
The polls made the race a close one, narrow advantage to Obama, as two weeks of back-to-back conventions approached. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on television ads, with hundreds of million more to come, almost all of it airing in a small group of battleground states expected to settle the election.
The list included Florida as well as North Carolina, where the Democratic National Convention will be held in one week's time.
After Romney's uneven run through the primary contests of winter and spring, the GOP convention was made to order for him from start to finish. Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and other foes from the long-ago primaries weren't even a nuisance as the four-day event approached.
But the same couldn't be said for Tropical Storm Isaac, lashing Haiti and Cuba as it churned menacingly through the Caribbean.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency as the storm approached the Florida Keys, more than 400 miles from Tampa. Forecasters said it was on a track to head west of the convention city, but predicted strong winds and rain at a minimum on Monday as the delegates meet.
"We are a hospitality state. We know how to take care of people and we want to ensure their safety," Scott said.
Apart from weather concerns, a heavy security presence was already in evidence. Miles of fencing were designed to create a secure zone around a tract of land that included the convention hall, the hotel where Romney will stay and a nearby convention center where journalists and others worked.
With demonstrations expected in the days ahead, National Guard troops armed with rifles patrolled nearby streets. They augmented police out in force, some on bicycles. Authorities reported no arrests.
Obama did his best to intrude on the Republican unity tableau.
In an interview with The Associated Press, he accused Romney of holding "extreme positions" on economic and social issues, while pledging a willingness on his own part to agree to "a whole range of compromise" with Republicans if he is re-elected.
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