TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — With the Republican National Convention at last in full-throated roar, nominee Mitt Romney and his team are reaching out in all directions Wednesday to connect with key voting groups including veterans, Hispanics and women while gleefully mocking the man he is out to defeat in November. Romney himself was ducking out of his own convention in Tampa to address the American Legion Convention in Indianapolis. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a top Hispanic voice in the GOP, made the round of morning talk shows to defend the GOP nominee’s policies. And Ann Romney and Janna Ryan, the wife of Romney’s running mate, were teaming up to headline “Women for Romney” events.
His nomination now official, Romney 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 on “CBS This Morning.”
President Barack 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 off-campus pavilion instead.
The politics played out as Hurricane Isaac blew ashore on the Gulf Coast, casting uncertainty into a convention that scrubbed the first day of events out of fear it would swipe Tampa. Any scenes of destruction along the Gulf Coast were sure to temper the celebratory tone, and further compression of the schedule was possible if the storm proved disastrous.
The GOP’s outreach effort went into full gear after Ann Romney offered convention delegates — and a national TV audience — a soft-sided portrayal of the Republican candidate in her convention address Tuesday night. Her appearance was teamed with a parade of gleeful Obama-bashers as the GOP seized its moment after days of worry about the hurricane.
Wednesday’s list of speakers is topped by Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, before the candidate himself speaks Thursday night to bring down the curtain-closing balloons. Obama’s Democratic National Convention follows next week in Charlotte, N.C.
Rubio held out Ryan as a “serious policy thinker” who’s “going to have a bunch of new fans across this country” after he speaks.
The Obama campaign, in turn, released an online video targeting Ryan as a politician from a “bygone era” whose views threaten Medicare and would gut funding for Planned Parenthood.
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who also addresses the convention Wednesday night, took aim at Obama on foreign affairs, saying 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.”
The convention’s keynote speaker, the unpredictable New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, issued a broad indictment of Democrats on Tuesday as “disciples of yesterday’s politics” who “whistle a happy tune” while taking the country off a fiscal cliff.
“It’s time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House,” he said. “Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good-paying private-sector jobs again in America.”
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.”
Mrs. Romney’s mission was clear. For all the hundreds of speeches he’s given and the years he’s spent reaching this moment, Romney remains largely inscrutable, a man in a business suit whose core remains a mystery to most of the nation. And he consistently lags behind President Barack Obama among women in polls.
Republicans have a little more than two months to change that and build upon his greatest perceived strength, as an economic fixer, in an election that by all indications is tight.
Republicans uncorked the anti-Obama rhetoric from the outset Tuesday. The Democratic president has “never run a company,” declared Reince Priebus, the Republican chairman. “He hasn’t even run a garage sale or seen the inside of a lemonade stand.” House Speaker John Boehner spoke of an America with “no government there to hold your hand. Just a dream and the desire to do better. President Obama doesn’t get this. He can’t fix the economy because he doesn’t know how it was built.”
Romney was affirmed as the nominee in a suspenseless roll call of state delegations. He received 2,061 votes to 190 for his nearest roll-call rival, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a preordained victory sealed months ago when the former Massachusetts governor prevailed in a bruising series of primaries and caucuses. Rick Santorum, his most serious competitor at the height of the primary season, closed ranks Tuesday night, at least to a point. He slammed Obama for turning the American dream of freedom into a “nightmare of dependency” in a speech focused on welfare reform and mentioning Romney only at the end.
Obama’s allies did their best to counter Romney and the Republicans.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, dismissing GOP attempts to woo Hispanic voters, said, “You can’t just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect people are going to vote for your party or your candidate.” He added, “This is a party with a platform that calls for the self-deportation of 11 million people.”
Hispanics strongly favor Obama, according to public polls, and Romney and his party have been seeking to win a bigger share of their 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.