POWELL, Ohio -- Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney declared Saturday that "women need our help" as he promised to help promote women-led businesses should he defeat President Barack Obama in November's election.
The appeal came as the former Massachusetts governor tried to shrug off a series of unwanted distractions before the Republican convention opens Monday in Florida.
"Just a word to the women entrepreneurs out there, if we become president and vice president, we want to speak to you, we want to help you," Romney said with running mate Paul Ryan at his side during an outdoor rally that drew an estimated 5,000 people to the Columbus area. "Women in this country are more likely to start businesses than men. Women need our help."
The promise comes as Republicans face difficult questions about the party's position on abortion after a Missouri Senate candidate's recent suggestion that women's bodies can prevent pregnancy in cases of "legitimate rape."
It also comes less than 24 hours after Romney raising the discredited rumor that Obama wasn't born in the United States. The comment, and Romney's efforts to explain it, overshadowed his economic message as he campaigned near his Michigan birthplace on Friday.
Romney did not repeat the remark on Saturday, but instead assailed the Democratic incumbent for failing to deliver on his campaign promises.
"I can almost read his speech now. It'll be filled with promises and tell people how wonderful things are," Romney said of the speech Obama will give at the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina next month. "It is not his words people have to listen to. It's his action and his record. And if they look at that, they'll take him out of the office and put people into the office who'll actually get America going again."
At the same time, Obama used his weekend radio and Internet address and a new TV ad to highlight Romney's plans for the Medicare health program for seniors.
Obama doesn't mention his Republican challenger in the radio address but says the Medicare program is about keeping promises to millions of seniors who have put in a lifetime of hard work.
His new 30-second TV ad says Romney "would break that promise" and replace the current Medicare system with a voucher program that wouldn't keep up with costs.
"Insurance companies could just keep raising rates," the new ad says.
Romney's Ohio rally is expected to be his final public appearance before the Republican National Convention opens Monday in Tampa, Fla., where the former Massachusetts governor will formally accept the presidential nomination.
While GOP officials suggest the momentum is on their side heading into the crucial period, Romney and his party have faced tough questions in recent weeks on Medicare and abortion.
Now his joking reference to the president's birth certificate links him to the so-called birther movement and a wing of his party - a combined 25 percent in an April Pew Research Center poll - that says it either isn't sure or doesn't believe Obama was born in the U.S.
Romney caused another stir earlier in the week by declaring that big business was "doing fine" in the current economy in part because companies get advantages from offshore tax havens.
Still, polls suggest the presidential contest is essentially a tossup as Obama struggles under the weight of a weak economy.
The president's re-election campaign has pushed voter attention away from the economy in recent weeks, particularly after Romney introduced Ryan as his running mate. Ryan is the author of a controversial budget plan that would transform Medicare into a voucher-like system for future retirees.
Outside the Ohio rally, protesters heckled the presumptive GOP ticket about its plans for seniors' health care.