TAMPA, Fla. — 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.
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 the 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 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.
Obama, campaigning before a college crowd in Charlottesville, Va., pledged that the government was "doing every single thing we need to do to make sure the folks down there are taken care of."
The president declared himself unimpressed with the GOP show unfolding in Tampa.
"You can listen very carefully, very hard, and you won't hear them offer a clear serious path forward," he 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.
Ryan tested the microphones in the convention 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.
But 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, courting young voters for a second straight day, exhorted a crowd near the University of Virginia not to lose sight of the vision of hope and change that he laid out four years ago, citing policies he's implemented like student loan reforms and middle-class tax cuts.
"You can't get tired now, because we've got more work to do," he told the students.
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 in an appearance on "CBS This Morning," said the voice of the United States in world affairs "has been muted" under this president, creating a chaotic and dangerous security environment.
Romney hit the same tone before the veterans.
"In the past four years, President Obama has allowed our leadership to diminish," he said. "In dealings with other nations, he has given trust where it is not earned, insult where it is not deserved and apology where it's not due."
Opinion polls 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.
Obama's allies did their best to counter Romney and the Republicans.
Obama campaign spokesman Jen 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."
She said of Mrs. Romney's appeal to women: "Surrounding yourself with strong women is a great thing, but it doesn't change your positions."
First lady Michelle Obama, on her own outreach campaign, 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, Frazier Moore in New York, Julie Pace in Colorado and Stephen Ohlemacher and Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.