By John Bacon and Gregory Korte, USA TODAY
TAMPA - Vice presidential candidate and fiscal wonk Paul Ryan is setting a goal of creating 12 million jobs in four years to bolster "a stronger middle class."
Excerpts of Ryan's speech prepared for delivery Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention were released in advance by campaign officials. The acceptance speech will come one day after former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was formally nominated to lead the ticket and Ryan, a Wisconsin congressman, was approved as his running mate by acclamation.
"The present administration has made its choices," Ryan will say. "And Mitt Romney and I have made ours: Before the math and the momentum overwhelm us all, we are going to solve this nation's economic problems. And I'm going to level with you: We don't have that much time.
"But if we are serious, and smart, and we lead, we can do this."
As Ryan prepared to take center stage Wednesday, Mitt Romney visited with veterans in Indianapolis and considered a trip to storm-damaged Louisiana.
Romney, speaking to the American Legion, acknowledged Tropical Storm Isaac, which lashed into the Gulf coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi as a hurricane late Tuesday.
"I appreciate this invitation to join you on dry land this afternoon," Romney joked as he opened his remarks. "Our thoughts are of course with the people of the Gulf Coast states. Seven years ago today they were bracing for Hurricane Katrina."
A top aide to Romney, who spoke on background because no decision had been made, said the candidate was considering a visit to the region. Romney is scheduled to speak at the party's convention Thursday night.
In Tampa, Republicans are relying on Wisconsin congressman Ryan's star power to continue the momentum from Tuesday night's emotional address by Ann Romney, wife of the newly anointed presidential candidate.
"The enthusiasm really increased last night," said Jovita Carranza, 62, a consulting-firm owner from Chicago who came with the Illinois delegation. "You could see the crescendo growing and growing as the speakers presented. It was a fabulous evening."
Romney campaign political director Rich Beeson told USA TODAY that Ryan's addition to the ticket finally gives Romney a teammate against the "double team" of criticism from President Obama and Vice President Biden. And Ryan strengthens the ticket demographically, Beeson said.
"You've got a Generation Xer," he said, adding that he believes Obama's advantage among younger voters is fading. "And Wisconsin became a tossup the day (Republican) Gov. Scott Walker won his recall," Beeson said.
Other Day Two headliners expected to charge up the crowd include Arizona Sen. John McCain, the party's failed 2008 nominee; former Arkansas governor and now conservative media star Mike Huckabee; and former secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Still, the now three-day conservative fest has had its struggles. The convention started a day late because of concerns that Tropical Storm Isaac would hit the city just as the convention was supposed to kick off Monday.
The storm dodged Tampa and instead took on the coasts of Louisiana and Mississippi. Mitt Romney tweeted his concern Wednesday morning: "Support the #Isaac relief effort by donating to the Red Cross. Text REDCROSS to 90999 or click here: http://rdcrss.org/PSpvi2."
A Red Cross appeal will appear on large video screens in the hall during Wednesday's proceedings.
Tuesday brought a mini-revolt from a small but vocal group of Ron Paul supporters. Backers of the Texas congressman and former GOP presidential contender objected loudly to new party rules designed to discourage insurgent presidential candidates from amassing delegates.
Paul backers, believing they were being squeezed out, chanted "Object! Object!" RNC Chairman Reince Priebus declined to recognize them, saying at one point, "Guys, we will proceed with the order of business."
That wasn't the only problem in the hall: Convention organizers later ejected two people from Tuesday night's session for allegedly throwing nuts at a black CNN camerawoman, and saying, "This is how we feed animals."
"Yesterday two attendees exhibited deplorable behavior," said a Republican statement posted by Talking Points Memo.
And there have been logistical problems. After the Tuesday sessions, delegates were to board shuttle buses destined for parking lots at a football stadium miles away and, from there, board buses to their hotels. But after Tuesday night's session recessed, thousands of delegates descended on the shuttles at once.
"It was like a mob," said Sally Beach, an alternate delegate from Florida who said she didn't reach her hotel until after 3 a.m. . Convention spokesman Kyle Downey said Wednesday that organizers were "working closely with our transportation management company" to fix the problems.
Strong speeches Wednesday night - capped by a Ryan home run - could go a long way toward keeping the convention on track as it heads into Thursday's grand finale: Romney's address.
After 14 years in Congress, Ryan has become the Republican Party's brand name for conservative economic policies: low taxes, reduced spending and entitlement overhaul, all wrapped into a GOP budget plan that bears his name.
Ryan, 42, now must sell voters on a different proposition: his own readiness to become president of the United States.
"Can he step in and do the job? That's really the only thing that matters," said Romney pollster Neil Newhouse.
The question bedeviled Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, Dan Quayle in 1988 and Sarah Palin in 2008.
A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken right after Ryan was named showed that 48% of Americans thought him qualified to serve as president - higher than Quayle or Palin, the two modern candidates closest to him in age, but lower than prior vice presidential nominees.
As the freshest face among the four men atop the Republican and Democratic tickets, Ryan has the best opportunity to make a first impression - but the shortest time to prepare. He's been a national candidate for 18 days.
"You have to pass a threshold plausibility test," said Joel Goldstein, a law professor at St. Louis University and leading expert on the vice presidency. "Do they have the credentials or the résumé significant enough that you can see him as president?"
Ryan's years in the House of Representatives provide the foundation for that résumé. After serving as a congressional staffer, he first ran for Congress at age 28 and has served 14 years. He catapulted past more senior members to become chairman of the House Budget Committee in 2011 on the strength of his reputation as a budget "wonk."
From that position, Ryan authored the Republican budget plan passed by the House this year that included deep spending cuts and a restructuring of Medicare that has become a flashpoint of debate in the political campaign season.
"From that standpoint, he's at least in the ballpark" of the kind of experience voters expect a vice president to have, Goldstein said.
Contributing: David Jackson; Paul Flemming, Tallahassee (Fla.) Democrat; Jackie Kucinich; Krystal Modigell; Associated Press