Battered Romney takes long view after tough week
After perhaps the worst week of his White House campaign, Mitt Romney and his team are taking the long view, insisting the Republican candidate will be able to bounce back by November 6.
As polls showed President Barack Obama ahead in key battleground states and panicked conservatives rained criticism on Romney, the challenger held at least five fundraisers over as many days beginning last Friday without a single public event.
Just seven weeks away from election day, it was an extraordinary gap, and veteran campaign reporters said they could not remember the last time a presidential candidate stayed off the trail for so long in the final stretch.
Romney aides dismissed the pause as the normal ebb and flow of politicking, insisting their strategy was geared toward November.
"The race is very close," senior advisor Kevin Madden told AFP.
"This is not an election that's going to be won or decided here in September. Ultimately it's going to be decided in November, and that's where we put our focus – all the way until election day."
Several Republicans say their party's nominee put himself behind the eight ball when a secretly filmed video surfaced showing him branding "47%" of Americans as government-dependent freeloaders.
The remarks went viral as Romney was already in damage-control mode over a statement accusing Obama of sympathizing with Islamist protesters that emerged just as news broke of the killing of four Americans in Libya.
Romney's remarks in the video, shot at a May fundraiser and published by Mother Jones magazine earlier this week, kicked up the worst firestorm of his campaign – and yet the candidate is not shying away from the message.
"It doesn't need a turnaround," insisted Romney, speaking to CBS News program "60 Minutes" which released the comments Friday, adding that he saw the race as a dead heat.
"We go forward with my message, that this is a time to reinvigorate the American economy, not by expanding government and raising taxes on people, but instead by making sure government encourages entrepreneurship and innovation and gets the private sector hiring again."
Romney aides told AFP they are confident that "video-gate" will blow over in a few news cycles.
But with the campaign already feeling hammered this week, they figured now was as good a time as any to release Romney's 2011 tax returns. Filings showed that Romney paid $1.9 million in taxes on an income of $13.6 million, an effective rate of 14.1%.
Some say Romney has little to lose from running as a recovery-not-dependency candidate and spelling out a stark contrast between himself and Obama.
"I don't know if it's so much a shift," an aide who is close to Romney said. "He's been talking about these things for a long time."
'Laser focus on economy'
One senior campaign official said there has been "no nervousness" within Romney's inner circle despite a Sunday report that detailed disarray, and Tim Pawlenty stepping down Thursday as campaign co-chair to lobby for the banking industry.
"Look, we've had at least two mini-controversies a month," said the campaign official.
The strategy, he said, is to move past them and "focus like a laser on the economy," which is Romney's bread and butter.
Romney plans to focus on battleground states, any of which could decide the election. Chief among them are must-win states Florida and Ohio, where Obama currently leads.
Romney spent Wednesday and Thursday in Florida, and he and running mate Paul Ryan launch a three-day bus tour through Ohio beginning on Monday.
Romney has meanwhile spent hours each recent weekend preparing for the three October debates with Obama, which will provide the last best chance to re-introduce the Republican to voters.
Sharpening the message and selling it to voters in person are key in US politics, and some Republicans fear Romney is doing both poorly.
"I think there is a broad and growing feeling now, among Republicans, that this thing is slipping out of Romney's hands," wrote Peggy Noonan, the former speechwriter to iconic conservative president Ronald Reagan and now a columnist for The Wall Street Journal.
On Friday she dialed it up a notch, branding the campaign a "rolling calamity," echoing the criticism of other conservatives.
The campaign has not so much circled the wagons as plodded on, largely ignoring the punditry.
"They'll do what they do," the close advisor said.
After a rally in Sarasota, Florida, as Romney walked to his plane, a reporter asked whether he would be campaigning a bit harder now.
"We're in the stretch, aren't we?" is all Romney would say, before changing the subject by looking up and pointing at the sky.
"Look at those clouds. It's beautiful," he said. "Look at those things."