TAMPA, Fla. -- Mitt Romney wants this week's Republican National Convention -- shortened by one day to duck a dangerous hurricane-season storm -- to show his human side and ability to connect with U.S. voters, something the patrician and hugely wealthy candidate has had difficulty doing through a bitter campaign to oust President Barack Obama.
As Republicans assembled in Tampa, Fla., a city battened down against the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac, Romney was at his New Hampshire lakeside vacation home practising his Thursday night acceptance speech.
As he did, two prominent Republicans urged the party to adopt a more inclusive stance toward women and Hispanics, the nation's fastest-growing minority.
Republicans were hoping to use the convention as a show of unity after a brutal primary season. Polls show Obama holding a small lead going into the convention.
Romney aides see the convention as an opportunity to cast the nominee as a determined leader with the know-how to fix the economy. They also want to introduce him as a family figure to counter the image of him as a ruthless businessman as Democrats have sought to brand him.
But party unity was rocked in the days before the convention. Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican candidate for a Senate seat from Missouri, unleashed his own political storm with remarks that women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy from a "legitimate" rape. He was defending his stance abortion should not be available even to victims of rape or incest.
Romney and other party leaders criticized those statements and urged Akin to drop out of the Senate race. Akin, a favourite of Christian conservatives, apologized for his remarks, but has refused to step aside.
Democrats jumped on those remarks as proof of their contention Republicans were waging a "war on women."
Not fair, Romney said in a Fox News interview broadcast Sunday.
"It really is sad, isn't it, with all the issues America faces, for the Obama campaign to continue to stoop to such a low level," Romney said, claiming the Obama campaign had sunk to a sad new low in the race. Romney conceded, however, that the controversy over Akin's remarks "hurts our party."
Democrats have latched onto the controversy, noting what Akin said and his opposition to abortion in all cases is held by many Republicans, including Romney's vice-presidential pick, Rep. Paul Ryan.
Despite concerns about the weather, a mammoth pre-convention celebration went on as planned Sunday night.Thousands of delegates and others flocked to the Tampa Bay Rays' major-league baseball stadium turned party venue in nearby St. Petersburg.
-- The Associated Press