FORT BLISS, Texas -- His convention turn coming fast, President Barack Obama on Friday began sprinting toward one of his last, best shots to win over voters, ready to promise better days even for those who do not feel better off. Rival Mitt Romney, flush with confidence after his party's convention, declared: "We love this country and we're taking it back."
Both angling for the aura of leadership, Romney swooped in on rain-drenched Louisiana, while Obama stood with troops in Texas and reminded the nation that he ended the war in Iraq. Obama, too, will visit storm-battered Louisiana on Monday, a move the White House said was decided before Romney revealed his plans.
The race for the White House suddenly felt more urgent, a final heated day of August giving way to a two-month stretch in which many voters will get serious about making their choices -- or even voting in the states that allow early balloting.
The political buzz followed Romney, hours after a convention speech in which he introduced himself to America and asked on-the-fence voters to let go of a president who "has disappointed America."
But attention was shifting to Obama, the incumbent who gets the last shot at making a lasting impression before the three October debates. His party's national convention, which starts Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., will dwell less on how life is now and more on where voters want their lives to be.
Romney shook up his itinerary Friday, as he had hinted, to get to Louisiana and inspect Hurricane Isaac's damage.
In the town of Jean Lafitte, Romney's motorcade plowed through water that at some points was a foot or deeper, passing flooded homes, lawns and businesses. Romney spoke with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, and explained that he had come down to listen, learn, lure some media coverage and make sure "the people around the country know that people down here need help."
For Obama, it was a day of official events.
Surrounded by troops in camouflage, he appeared as commander in chief more than candidate, announcing steps to help war veterans cope with mental health struggles. Yet the visit also served as an election-year reminder that he closed out the Iraq War and has pledged an end to the Afghanistan War at the end of 2014.
"We're not just ending these wars," he said. "We're doing it in a way that keeps America safe and makes America stronger, and that includes our military."