JEAN LAFITTE, La. — Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan plunged headlong into the fall campaign Friday on a two-track mission to convince Americans that the GOP nominee 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 declared "people down here need help."
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 paying a visit to troops at Fort Bliss in Texas, exactly two years after declaring the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq.
"Today every American can be proud that the United States is safer, the United States is stronger and the United States is more respected in the world," Obama declared, a throng of soldiers in fatigues providing the backdrop.
Fresh from the Republican National Convention, Romney met up with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on a highway south of New Orleans. The GOP nominee's motorcade of SUVs and trucks inched through water that was a foot or more deep at times, passing flooded homes and submerged gas stations as residents stood in water where there should have been lawns. The two talked about some of the challenges facing the surrounding community, and visited with local residents and National Guard troops providing assistance.
"I'm here to learn and obviously draw some attention to what's going on here," said Romney, in shirt-sleeves and blue jeans. "So that people around the country know that people down here need help."
At a farewell rally as he left Tampa, Romney kept his focus squarely on the economy. The GOP nominee said he and 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.
Isaac 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.
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.
Jindal, a Republican who canceled his speech at the GOP convention to tend to hurricane-related matters, said he'd invited Romney to come visit, and he's thrilled that Obama will come through, too.
"We're solely focused on the hurricane and the response," he said.