Mitt Romney is making the first stop of his fall campaign for the White House a visit to hurricane-damaged Louisiana, hoping to convince Americans he is not just the right man to fix the economy but an all-around leader for the nation. President Barack Obama, for his part, served notice that he will use his powers of incumbency to make Romney's mission hard.
Fresh from the Republican National Convention, Romney met up with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal south of New Orleans, his motorcade passing by flooded homes and submerged gas stations as residents stood in water where there should have been front lawns. 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 what's going on here," Romney said. "So that people around the country know that people down here need help."
Asked what a private citizen can accomplish by visiting the Gulf, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said the GOP nominee had talked with Gulf officials about focusing public attention on the region, "particularly the need for charitable donations and resources to aid relief efforts."
"The governor is in a position to help focus that public attention," Madden said.
Meanwhile, his vice-presidential hopeful, Paul 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.
Ryan, warming up the crowd for Romney, told supporters: "Coming out of Tampa, we have given our fellow countrymen a very clear choice." He offered Romney as "a man for the moment" and cast the election as a choice between a failed presidency and a stagnant economy, and fresh leadership that will turn the economy around. Ryan also asked for prayers for those affected the hurricane and by an earthquake in the Philippines.
U.S. President Barack Obama has campaign stops planned for Saturday in the Iowa cities of Des Moines and Sioux City, along with Denver, Colo. He will head for Boulder, Colo., and Toledo, Ohio, on Sunday.
On Monday, Obama will visit the areas hit by Hurricane Isaac.
Isaac left a wake of misery in Louisiana, leaving dozens of neighbourhoods 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.
The Romney campaign has been considering a trip to the Gulf coast for days and scrapped a plan to visit earlier in the week because weather conditions on the ground were considered too dangerous.
Romney, who cancelled the first day of his convention due to Isaac, is plunging into the presidential campaign's final 67 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," he 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."
His wife made the rounds of Friday morning talk shows to pronounce her husband the right man to fix a troubled economy, and predicted that argument would win over women voters 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," Mrs. Romney said on CNN. "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."
Obama heads to Texas
Obama, who will hold his own convention next week, planned to visit a Texas military base exactly two years after declaring the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, the war that haunts the last Republican president. This, as Democrats prepare to gather in Charlotte, N.C., for Obama's convention.
His campaign issued a morning-after critique of Romney's 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's web video says.
Romney capped a high-energy night closing to the convention with a spirited and unusually personal speech infused with his family life, touching on his Mormon faith and recounting his youth. The cheers were loud and frequent, surely music to the ears of a candidate who struggled throughout the bruising primary season and beyond to bury doubts among many in his party that he was the authentic conservative in the field.
'Now is the time to restore the promise of America'—Mitt Romney
"Now is the time to restore the promise of America," Romney declared to a nation struggling with unemployment and the slowest economic recovery in decades.
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 one-on-one debates where the stakes could hardly be any higher.
The campaign themes are mostly set. Romney depicts the president as a once-inspiring but disappointing figure who doesn't understand job-creation or ordinary Americans' frustrations. Democrats portray Romney as a man shifting ever rightward in the absence of core convictions, and a wealthy plutocrat who can't relate to the middle class.
Hanging over the campaign is a big number: the nation's 8.3 per cent unemployment rate. It is Obama's biggest impediment to a second term.
Strikingly absent from Romney's campaign, including the three-day convention in Tampa, were detailed explanations of how he would tame deficit spending while also cutting taxes and expanding the armed forces. He seems to be asking voters to trust his ability to create jobs and to make tough, unpopular decisions later.
'I want America to succeed'
Romney used his biggest moment yet in the spotlight, Thursday's televised acceptance speech, to put a softer glow on his business record and to make short work of a conservative checklist that is now less important as he pursues swing voters.
He briefly hailed "the sanctity of life," but did not mention "abortion," illegal immigration, or even Ronald Reagan by his first name.
Romney's speech also omitted many of the sharp barbs that he and his allies often throw at Obama.
"I wish President Obama had succeeded, because I want America to succeed," Romney said. "But his promises gave way to disappointment and division. ... We deserve better."
He repeated his claim that Obama can't lead America out its economic doldrums because he has no business background.
"Jobs to him are about government," Romney said.
The relatively toned-down rhetoric was a shift from Romney's taunt, only two weeks ago, of "Mr. President, take your campaign of division and anger and hate back to Chicago."
Thursday's gentler tone by Romney might simply be a nod to reality. Polls repeatedly find that voters find Obama more likable than Romney. Romney's convention message was: It's OK to like Obama even as you fire him.
Of course other top Republicans, and Romney himself, might revert to ripping into Obama, especially if they don't see polls moving in Romney's direction soon in the 10 or so states up for grabs.