TAMPA, Fla. — Mitt Romney said it is "sad" that President Barack Obama's campaign is trying to link him to Rep. Todd Akin's statements about abortion, as top Republicans preparing for the party's nominating convention urged the GOP presidential challenger to reach out to women and Hispanics.
The remarks came Sunday as Republicans descending on Florida prepared to cram four days of events into three because of the threat caused by the approach of Tropical Storm Isaac.
Romney said that as Massachusetts governor, he had helped women by guaranteeing coverage for them — and men as well — by enacting that state's health care coverage legislation. Romney has pledged that as president he would repeal Obama's health care overhaul law — which is similar to the Massachusetts statute — but Romney said he was proud of that accomplishment.
Akin is the GOP Missouri Senate candidate who said women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy after a "legitimate" rape. Romney and other GOP leaders have criticized those statements and urged Akin to drop out of the Senate race.
Asked in an interview broadcast Sunday on "Fox News Sunday" about Obama campaign efforts to link Akin's remarks to Romney and other Republicans, Romney said, "It really is sad, isn't it, with all the issues that America faces for the Obama campaign to continue to stoop to such a low level."
Romney said the controversy over Akin "hurts our party and I think is damaging to women."
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Romney must sell his message to women and Hispanics if he is to oust Obama in the November elections.
Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," the former GOP presidential candidate said Romney must convince women and Hispanics that "jobs and the economy are more important perhaps than other issues."
Former Florida GOP Gov. Jeb Bush had a similar message about the Hispanic vote, saying on NBC, "Governor Romney can make inroads if he focuses on how do we create a climate of job creation and economic growth."
Bush, who has long urged his party to craft a more conciliatory message to Hispanics, added, "We've got to have a better tone going forward over the long haul for sure. You can't ask people to join your cause and then send a signal that 'you're really not wanted.' It just doesn't work."
Blue skies with patches of clouds hung over Tampa early Sunday, though winds were picking up as the major storm approached.
As aides in Tampa scramble, Romney is taking a rare day off the campaign trail at his lakeside vacation home in New Hampshire, receiving updates on the storm and making final preparations for the Thursday speech with which he will accept his party's presidential nomination.
"The safety of those in Isaac's path is of the utmost importance," Romney tweeted after Republican officials announced they had called off Monday's convention proceedings.
Because of possible storm surges and flooding Isaac could bring, convention organizers said they were making contingency plans to move delegates who have been booked into beachfront hotels to other locations if necessary. They indicated the schedule shift also was meant to prevent overburdening emergency response personnel at the height of the storm.
The GOP made the announcement late Saturday, saying that while the convention would officially be gaveled into session on Monday as scheduled, events would be postponed until Tuesday.
Convention spokesman James Davis said organizers were closely monitoring the storm's path but planned to rely on emergency management officials to guide decisions on whether to relocate delegates at waterfront hotels. So far, none have been moved nor had officials received word of major problems for inbound delegates.
Davis said the GOP's advice to delegates was "if your travel plans have not been interrupted and they're set, we recommend you come on down."
With Isaac boring down on the coast, President Barack Obama, who had been at Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, dispatched the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish a command center and move more resources into the state. Vice President Joe Biden scrapped a planned campaign trip into Florida that was to counter the start of the GOP convention.
Republicans hope to use this week's convention to cast Romney as a determined leader with the know-how to fix the country's economy. They also want to introduce him as a family oriented figure to counter the image of him as a ruthless businessman as Democrats have sought to brand him.
While the Romneys reveled in their convention, Obama was due to travel next week to college towns in Iowa, Colorado and Virginia to court young voters and college students. The president's nomination for a desired second term was to come a week later in Charlotte, N.C., during a Democratic convention beginning Sept. 4, right on the heels of the Republican convention.
In an interview with The Associated Press published Saturday, Obama sought to portray Romney as someone beholden to "extreme positions" on economic and social issues. Obama took pains to paint Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, as ideologues at a time when voters seem frustrated by government gridlock.
After a near-constant travel schedule since he was announced as the GOP vice presidential candidate, Ryan was also taking a rare break. Following a Saturday evening fundraiser in Manchester, N.H., he returned home to Janesville, Wis. Aides said Ryan planned a quiet Sunday. Then, before flying to Florida, he was to appear at a Monday rally in his hometown that was likely to offer him a hero's sendoff.
A few of Romney's former presidential rivals were holding events of their own in Tampa. Herman Cain and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann — both have endorsed Romney — were appearing at a joint event. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who hasn't conferred his blessing on the presumptive nominee, was anticipating thousands at a University of South Florida rally.
Associated Press writers Philip Elliott and Steve Peoples in New Hampshire and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.