Fresh off his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, Mitt Romney plunged headlong into the fall campaign Friday on a two-track mission to convince Americans that he is not only the right man to fix the economy but an all-around leader for the nation.
Romney, hoping to project an aura of leadership, surveyed storm damage in Louisiana and said he was trying draw some attention to the plight of those affected.
President Barack Obama made plans for his own visit to the Gulf on Monday. And the president served notice that he will use his powers of incumbency to make Romney's mission hard: He underscored his record as commander in chief by scheduling a visit with troops in Texas on Friday, exactly two years after declaring the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq.
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Romney met up with Gov. Bobby Jindal along a highway, near several National Guard trucks. The two talked about some of the challenges facing the surrounding community, which relies on fishing for its livelihood.
"I'm here to learn and obviously draw some attention" to the situation, Romney said.
At a farewell rally as he left Tampa, Romney kept his focus squarely on the economy. The GOP nominee said he and Paul Ryan "understand how the economy works, we understand how Washington works. We will reach across the aisle and find good people who like us, want to make sure this country deals with its challenges. We'll get America on track again."
Ryan hopscotched from one electoral battleground to another — Florida to Virginia — declaring "67 days to go!" He told supporters in Richmond that after four years of economic troubles, it was time for change.
"If we stay on the same path, we'll get more of the same result," Ryan said.
Hurricane Isaac, since downgraded to a tropical storm, left a wake of misery in Louisiana, with dozens of neighborhoods under deep flood waters and more than 800,000 people without power. While New Orleans was spared major damage, the storm walloped surrounding suburbs, topping smaller levees with days of rain and forcing more than 4,000 from their homes.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a statement it was "the height of hypocrisy for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to make a pretense of showing sympathy for the victims of Hurricane Isaac when their policies would leave those affected by this disaster stranded and on their own." He said the federal budget proposed by Ryan would have severely cut disaster funding.
Romney heads into the campaign's final days with his primary focus on jobs and the economy, and depicting Obama as a well-meaning but inept man who must be replaced.
"America has been patient," Romney said in his speech to the nation Thursday night. "Americans have supported this president in good faith. But today, the time has come to turn the page."
Among those who chose not to turn in: Obama. "He tends to consume his news the old-fashioned way, via print," said spokesman Jay Carney.
His wife, Michelle, said in an email appeal that she's "learned to shrug off what Barack's opponents say about him." But she told supporters "not everyone knows him as you and I do," and urged them to contribute money to help get the Democratic message out.
Ann Romney, for her part, made the rounds of Friday morning talk shows to offer her husband as the solution to the country's economic problems, and predicted that argument would hold sway with women who haven't voted Republican in the past.
Ann Romney said women tell her: "It's time for the grown-up to come, the man that's going to take this very seriously and the future of our children very, very seriously. I very much believe this is going to be an economic election, and I think a lot of women may be voting this cycle around in a different way than they usually are, and that is thinking about the economy."
Democrats gather in Charlotte, N.C., next week for Obama's convention. They hope the convention will, at a minimum, neutralize any GOP bounce out of Tampa. Obama narrowly won North Carolina in 2008 and scheduled his 2012 convention there in hopes of repeating the unexpected feat. Romney's path to victory is severely complicated unless he puts the state back in the GOP column.
In the lead-up to his convention, Obama was campaigning this weekend in Iowa and Colorado, before surveying storm damage in Louisiana on Monday. He canceled a scheduled stop in Cleveland to go to the Gulf.
Carney announced the trip to the Gulf from Air Force One as Obama flew to Texas to speak to U.S. service members and their families. Carney said the president's visit to Fort Bliss would highlight administration efforts to support U.S. service members and their families, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those efforts include attempts to combat what Carney called "unseen wounds" of the wars, including post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Obama's team is intent on flexing the powers of the presidency in pursuit of re-election.
Where Romney gave a shout-out to members of the military during his rally, Obama was able to sign an executive order to improve access to mental health services for veterans, service members and military families.
Vice President Joe Biden spent Friday in the political battleground of Ohio, visiting with UAW workers in Lordstown. He reminded them that Romney opposed the administration's bailout of the auto industry, which didn't come up at the GOP convention.
"What they didn't say is because of the auto rescue, there are 4,500 of you working here today," Biden said. "And GM is adding two shifts."
Romney will be in Ohio on Saturday before taking a couple of days to rest during the Democratic convention.
Obama's campaign issued a morning-after critique of Romney's convention speech that faulted the GOP nominee for skipping over failings in his record on job-creation as Massachusetts governor and for not being up-front with voters about details of his economic plans that Obama says would reduce taxes for the wealthy and increase burdens on the middle class.
"Thursday was Mitt Romney's big night to tell America his plans for moving forward, yet he chose not to," the Obama campaign said in a web video.
Polls suggest a to-the-wire campaign finish. The two men will spend the next 10 weeks in a handful of competitive states, none more important than Florida and Ohio, and meet in October for one-on-one debates where the stakes could hardly be any higher.