Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hugs his wife Ann Romney on stage at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — With the Republican National Convention at last in full-throated roar, nominee Mitt Romney and his team reached out Wednesday to connect with critical voting groups — 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, teamed up to headline a "Women for Romney" event.
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."
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.
The main draw Wednesday night 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. 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.
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 an 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 latest economic news suggested weak growth in the second half of the year, fodder for Republicans who blame Obama for the sluggish recovery. The U.S. economy grew at a tepid 1.7 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, the government reported Wednesday, a bit better than expected due to slightly stronger consumer spending and greater exports.
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. Her appearance was paired with a parade of gleeful Obama-bashers as the GOP seized its moment after days of worry about the hurricane.
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.
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.
Rice, warming up for her speech, said 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."
Opinion polls, however, 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.
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."
Obama's allies did their best to counter Romney and the Republicans.
In her own effort to woo female voters, first lady Michelle Obama 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."
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, Frazier Moore in New York, Julie Pace in Colorado and Stephen Ohlemacher and Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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