Republican Mitt Romney hits the campaign trail hard this week to try to inject some fresh momentum into his flagging presidential bid as polls show his path to the White House narrowing.
The vote is six weeks from Tuesday and the former Massachusetts governor trails President Barack Obama
both in national polls and, more importantly, in eight of the nine crucial swing states that will decide the election.
Efforts to claw back some ground on the incumbent since Obama received a significant boost from the Democratic Party Convention at the beginning of the month have fallen into disarray due to a series of campaign missteps.
After rushing to judgment over Obama's response to the anti-Islamic film that spawned protests in the Muslim world, Romney was embarrassed by a secretly-recorded video in which he wrote off almost half the electorate as "victims" who were dependent on government handouts.
"The Romney campaign has to get turned around," respected conservative columnist Peggy Noonan wrote on Friday. "This week I called it incompetent, but only because I was being polite. I really meant 'rolling calamity.'"
A Romney reset effort begins in earnest with a campaign event on Sunday evening in Colorado before he flies east to the key states of Ohio and Virginia and drops in on New York to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative.
He will seek to get the message back to the economy – the president is vulnerable due to stubbornly high US unemployment – and portray himself as the more prudent fiscal manager who can lead America to a brighter future.
Running mate Paul Ryan kicks off a "Romney Plan For A Stronger Middle Class" tour on Monday across Rust-belt Ohio, where an average of the latest polling shows Obama ahead by more than four percentage points.
Under the US system, each state is awarded a certain number of electoral college votes and on election night a candidate needs to reach the magic 270 figure to emerge victorious.
The swing states with the largest number of electoral college votes up for grabs are Florida (29), North Carolina (15), Ohio (18) and Virginia (13).
Polling of nine swing states shows Romney leading only in North Carolina and trailing by more than four percent in both Ohio and Virginia. Florida is closer with Obama credited with a razor-thin lead of around one percent.
"These are the dominoes that have to fall for each of the campaigns, and the trouble is, based on the polling at least, eight of the nine dominoes are at least slightly tilted in Obama's direction," said expert Charles Franklin.
"Romney needs to tilt some of them back in his direction and he needs to do that fairly soon," said Franklin, a politics professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and co-founder of Pollster.com.
The Romney campaign remains defiant and insists their man is still effectively tied with an incumbent who has a large Achilles heel: the economy.
"Given everything we've gone through, everybody wants to count this guy out," Neil Newhouse, Romney's campaign pollster, told the Washington Post. "And yet the poll numbers don't do that. The poll numbers put him right in the middle of this."
The candidate himself seemed confident about his prospects in an interview with broadcaster CBS aired late Sunday.
Asked if he could win the upcoming elections, Romney replied: "I'm going to win this thing."
A week on Tuesday, Romney will face off against Obama in the first of three televised presidential debates that collectively represent his final big opportunity to turn things around.
On election day, November 6, there is always the question of which side has had the better "ground game," getting voters to the polls and ensuring their candidate is not defeated by low turnout.
Franklin said he wasn't ready to call the race for Obama.
"This is sort of like knowing a half-time score in an American football game. It tells you something about the outcome but it's not the final score," he told AFP.
"There's still certainly time for events to occur that might shift some of those critical states," he said.
"The economy is still out there, it could change in new economic reports, the debates are forthcoming, and finally we have the potential for international events to arise as well as what the candidates say on the campaign trail."
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