Mitt Romney ignited controversy in his native Michigan Friday with an off-the-cuff comment he says was intended as a joke, but that the Obama administration is calling a direct invocation of a highly charged issue. NBC News' Peter Alexander reports.
POWELL, Ohio-- With less than 48 hours to go before the opening of the Republican nominating convention in Tampa, Mitt Romney's mind was on President Obama's speech four years ago as he addressed a rally Saturday in a swing county in Ohio. Romney called then Senator Obama's speech "brilliant," but assailed the president for failing to match results to his rhetoric. He predicted more of the same at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., next week.
"He will have all sorts of promises to offer again. He'll tell you how much better things are now, but you know this time we have more than just the words. We have the record," Romney told roughly 5,000 supporters Saturday morning. "And we understand the big gap there is between what he promises and what he hopes and what he actually delivers. And that's why this November the people of Ohio are going to make sure we get a Republican in the White House and take back America."
The attack on Obama's convention rhetoric comes as Romney prepares his own address to the nation -- a speech he told a conservative radio host Friday night he has yet to complete. And, as his campaign looks to refocus on the economy and a crucial demographic group where he trails President Obama: women.
According to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released earlier this week, Obama is still beating Romney among several key parts of his political base, including women. Romney trails the president by 10 percent -- 41 percent to 51 percent. Back in 2008, the female vote helped propel Obama to victory over Republican candidate John McCain. Obama captured 56 percent of the female vote four years ago, according to exit polls.
Today, Romney tailored his business-friendly message to women, telling the Delaware County crowd he could do more to help female business owners than the current president.
"Just a word to the women entrepreneurs out there. If we become, if we become president and vice president, we want to speak to you, we want to help you," Romney said. "Women in this country are more likely to start businesses than men. Women need our help."
Political analysts Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Karen Finney, former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, discuss the impending Republican National Convention, the storm, the "birther" comments and the Romney campaign's effort to stay on message to win the nomination.
But beyond reaching out to female business owners, Romney did not alter his message to women specifically, nor did his running mate Paul Ryan, as they appeared side-by-side in the Buckeye state for the first time.
The role of making a more direct appeal to female voters will likely fall squarely on the shoulders of Ann Romney, long her husband's most effective surrogate with women, who will speak to millions in a prime-time address on Tuesday night at the convention. Romney campaign officials and RNC planners moved her speech yesterday from Monday to Tuesday to accommodate television network plans to only broadcast three nights of the convention and to ensure Mrs. Romney reaches the greatest audience possible.
The RNC has also packed the prime-time speaking schedule with other top women surrogates, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Luce Vela Fortuno, first lady of Puerto Rico, who will speak after Mrs. Romney on Tuesday.
The Obama campaign is not letting up on its outreach to female voters this election either. In addition to having several female speakers at the DNC convention next week, the "Romney/Ryan: Wrong for Women" bus tour will roll across the country talking about reproductive rights and women’s health.