Evan Vucci, File, Associated Press
TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney said it is "sad" that President Barack Obama's campaign is trying to link him to Rep. Todd Akin's statements about abortion, as top Republicans preparing for the party's nominating convention urged the GOP presidential challenger to reach out to women and Hispanics.
The remarks came Sunday as Republicans descending on Florida prepared to cram four days of events into three because of the threat caused by the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac.
Romney said that as Massachusetts governor, he had helped women by guaranteeing coverage for them — and men as well — by enacting that state's health care coverage legislation. Romney has pledged that as president he would repeal Obama's health care overhaul law — which is similar to the Massachusetts statute — but Romney said he was proud of that accomplishment.
Akin is the GOP Missouri Senate candidate who said women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy after a "legitimate" rape. Romney and other GOP leaders have criticized those statements and urged Akin to drop out of the Senate race.
Asked in an interview broadcast Sunday on "Fox News Sunday" about Obama campaign efforts to link Akin's remarks to Romney and other Republicans, Romney said, "It really is sad, isn't it, with all the issues that America faces for the Obama campaign to continue to stoop to such a low level."
Romney said the controversy over Akin "hurts our party and I think is damaging to women."
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Romney must sell his message to women and Hispanics if he is to oust Obama in the November elections.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," the former GOP presidential candidate said Romney must convince women and Hispanics that "jobs and the economy are more important perhaps than other issues."
Former Florida GOP Gov. Jeb Bush had a similar message about the Hispanic vote, saying on NBC, "Governor Romney can make inroads if he focuses on how do we create a climate of job creation and economic growth."
Bush, who has long urged his party to craft a more conciliatory message to Hispanics, added, "We've got to have a better tone going forward over the long haul for sure. You can't ask people to join your cause and then send a signal that 'you're really not wanted.' It just doesn't work."
Blue skies with patches of clouds hung over Tampa early Sunday, though winds were picking up as the major storm approached.
As aides in Tampa scramble, Romney is taking a rare day off the campaign trail at his lakeside vacation home in New Hampshire, receiving updates on the storm and making final preparations for the Thursday speech with which he will accept his party's presidential nomination.
"The safety of those in Isaac's path is of the utmost importance," Romney tweeted after Republican officials announced they had called off Monday's convention proceedings.
Because of possible storm surges and flooding Isaac could bring, convention organizers said they were making contingency plans to move delegates who have been booked into beachfront hotels to other locations if necessary. They indicated the schedule shift also was meant to prevent overburdening emergency response personnel at the height of the storm.
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