Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who was bringing along his 78-year-old mother for an appearance before the AARP's convention in New Orleans, reassured attendees that he and Romney care about senior citizens.
"Mitt Romney and I share your concerns," Ryan said in remarks prepared for delivery provided by the campaign in advance. "And we respect you enough to level with you. We respect all the people of this country enough to talk about the clear choices we face on Medicare, Social Security, the economy, and the kind of country our children will inherit."
Ryan argued that Obama's health care law has weakened Medicare, the popular federal entitlement program for seniors, and said the Republican ticket would give seniors more choice in their health care coverage if elected.
Americans 50 and over -- the age that qualifies for AARP membership -- are an especially important demographic for the candidates to persuade because they register in greater numbers those who are younger and are almost twice as likely to cast their ballot. An Associated Press-GfK poll that was released this week found Romney was favored by seniors likely to vote, 52 percent to 41 percent for Obama.
Obama planned to appear before Ryan live via satellite from Woodbridge, Va., where he was holding a rally Friday. He also tried to win seniors by beginning an ad Friday in Colorado, Florida and Iowa that argued Romney and Ryan would turn Medicare into a voucher program that could raise seniors' health costs by up to $6,400 a year.
Independent groups have said that a House Republican budget proposal led by Ryan could lead to higher costs for older Americans. But exactly how much is far from clear. The ad relies on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank, for the figure it cites.
Ryan said his plan would create competition among private insurance providers and bring down costs. "Our idea is to force insurance companies to compete against each other to better serve seniors, with more help for the poor and the sick -- and less help for the wealthy," Ryan said.
Obama's campaign tried to keep the focus on Romney's closed door remarks by releasing an online video that argued "Romney thinks more than half of senior citizens `don't `care for their lives."'
It played portions of the remarks that Romney delivered to donors while being secretly recorded in which he said nearly half of voters support Obama who pay no federal income tax, are dependent on government and believe they are victims. "My job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives," Romney said in the recording, made in May and published this week on the Mother Jones website.
Senior citizens receiving Medicare make up about 15 percent of those getting federal benefits; about 22 percent of those not paying income tax are seniors who get tax breaks that offset their income.
Obama's campaign video quoted seniors criticizing the remarks. "It offends me," one man says. "It puts me in that group. We have paid into Social Security all our working life and we therefore are getting what we invested in."
Romney was holding a campaign rally Friday in Nevada, where he was expected to continue pressing Obama on his comment that "you can't change Washington from the inside."
"I can change Washington," Romney said Thursday. "I will change Washington. We'll get the job done from the inside. Republicans and Democrats will come together."
The president's campaign countered quickly by noting that Romney said exactly that in 2007, when he was running for the 2008 Republican nomination: "I don't think you change Washington from the inside. I think you change it from the outside."
Polling shows Obama with a slight lead nationally, as well as in many of the eight or so battleground states that will decide the election. That includes Virginia, where Democrats with access to internal polling say Obama is up 3 or 4 percentage points over Romney in Virginia, a slimmer margin than in some recent public polling.
Obama has also pulled ahead of Romney in cash on hand, a key measure of a campaign's financial strength. The Democrat has more than $88 million to spend in the campaign's final weeks, while Romney has just over $50 million at his disposal.
Romney is facing criticism from some in his own party that he's spending too much time raising money and not enough time talking to voters in the eight or so battleground states that will decide the election. In response, his campaign added a Sunday rally in Colorado to his schedule and announced a three-day Ohio bus tour that kicks off Monday.
At the same time, his wife, Ann, said GOP critics should lay off. "Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring," she said Thursday evening in an interview with Radio Iowa.
"This is hard, and you know, it's an important thing that we're doing right now, and it's an important election," she said. "And it is time for all Americans to realize how significant this election is and how lucky we are to have someone with Mitt's qualifications and experience and know-how to be able to have the opportunity to run this country."