September 20, 2012
By JEFF ZELENY and JIM RUTENBERG
WASHINGTON — There are seven days until early voting begins in Iowa, less than two weeks until the first debate and 46 days left in the race for Mitt Romney to change the dynamic of a campaign that by many indicators is tilting against him.
That, advisers to President Obama acknowledge, is plenty of time.
But the burden rests to a remarkable degree directly on Mr. Romney and his ability to restore confidence to his campaign, become a more nimble candidate and clearly explain to voters why he would be the better choice to repair the economy and lead the nation in addressing its challenges at home and abroad.
The state-by-state landscape facing Mr. Romney is more daunting than he expected by this stage in the contest. He anticipated, aides said, to be in a position of strength in at least some of the states that turned Democratic in 2008 for the first time in a generation, but few of them show signs of breaking decisively his way, and Mr. Obama still has more and clearer paths to 270 electoral votes.
And as Mr. Romney works to move beyond one of the most turbulent periods of his candidacy, in a week dominated by the disclosure of remarks in which he said that 47 percent of Americans do not pay taxes and see themselves as victims, he is starting to confront criticism from some in his party who worry that his troubles will affect their own races.
“The presidential thing is bound to have an impact on every election,” Tommy G. Thompson, the former Wisconsin governor who is the Republican candidate for the Senate there, said in an interview on Wednesday with a Madison television station. “If your standard-bearer for the presidency is not doing well, it’s going to reflect on the down ballot.”
While Mr. Romney remains deadlocked with Mr. Obama in most national polls, anxiety among Republicans about the presidential race, the seeming lurching nature of Mr. Romney’s campaign and his own miscues have spread far beyond Washington. Republican strategists across the country said in interviews that their candidates were being asked about Mr. Romney’s remarks, creating an unwelcome potential trap for those in tough races.
Mr. Romney has sought to turn the issue against Mr. Obama, calling the president an advocate of redistributing wealth and emphasizing, “My campaign is about the 100 percent of America.” But as the two candidates campaigned in Florida on Thursday, Mr. Obama focused on Mr. Romney’s “47 percent” comments.
“My thinking is maybe you haven’t gotten around a lot,” Mr. Obama said about Mr. Romney in an appearance at a Univision forum in Coral Gables.
There is a growing sense of frustration among Republicans that Mr. Romney has yet to take a commanding lead in any of the major battleground states — especially North Carolina, which is tied with South Carolina for having the nation’s fifth-worst unemployment rate, or Nevada, which has the nation’s highest jobless rate, 12 percent.
In Ohio, Florida and Colorado, Republicans who support Mr. Romney’s efforts said they were worried that he was not campaigning enough in their states and that resources were not trickling into vital counties.
“Could we use yard signs? Could we use information data?” said A. J. Matthews, a Republican State Committee member from Hillsborough County, Fla. “What would we most like from Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan? Visit us more.”
In Ohio, some Republicans have expressed concern that Mr. Romney was not spending more money and appearing more frequently in rural counties where he needs a strong turnout to win the state — and where his “47 percent” comments threaten to undercut support among working-class voters otherwise inclined to vote for him. A bus trip by Mr. Romney next week may address some of these worries.
In Colorado, Dick Wadhams, a longtime Republican strategist and a former state party chairman, said he hoped to see Mr. Romney campaign harder for swing voters in suburban Denver, and he said he was pleased the candidate was planning to visit the state on Sunday, the first time in seven weeks.
Speaking of those swing voters, Mr. Wadhams said, “They want to vote against Obama, but they haven’t quite come to the point where they’re going to vote for Romney.”
Mr. Wadhams and other party leaders said, however, that they were heartened by Mr. Romney’s get-out-the-vote operations. Republicans say Mr. Romney’s on-the-ground efforts are far superior to those of Senator John McCain in 2008.
Officials at the Romney campaign said they believed some of the concern in the tossup states was being created by what they described as hyped news media reporting on Mr. Romney’s latest missteps. The campaign has been meticulously thought out, they said, and its supporters have yet to see activity that, by design, was not scheduled to begin until near the end of the race.
“We’re making some very strategic decisions,” said Rich Beeson, the political director. “And when we’re coming down to the end, you’ll see the governor everywhere he needs to be.”
Mr. Romney has yet to take command of any battleground states, according to polls, many of which show Mr. Obama with an edge. The Romney campaign has been focusing on Iowa as one of its more promising states, but an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College poll released Thursday evening showed Mr. Obama with an 8-point advantage there.
The president and his aides are aware that everything could change in an instant, particularly with three presidential debates looming, and said Democrats could not be complacent.
But for the first time in many months, Mr. Obama’s job approval rating has reached 50 percent in several recent polls. He has taken the edge away from Mr. Romney on questions of who voters believe will be a better steward of the economy, which coincides with the release of modestly positive economic signals.
Construction of new houses and home sales have reached their highest levels in more than two years, new reports show, and the Census Bureau reported that the number of young adults living at home with their parents — a vivid indicator of the personal effect of the recession on young people — is dropping.
Yet the president must still contend with his campaign promises made four years ago, including his pledge to change Washington. When asked about that Thursday during the Univision forum, he said change must come from the “outside.”
Speaking to supporters in Sarasota, Fla., Mr. Romney seized on the remark as an admission of failure, saying: “The president today threw in the white flag of surrender. He went from the president of change to the president who can’t get change.”
For all of the open fretting among Republicans, several party leaders say Mr. Romney still has an opportunity to win over voters who are ready to reject Mr. Obama.
“Romney has not made the sale yet with the 5 or 10 percent that are undecided, and he very well could,” said Mike DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general. “It’s a very doable thing for Romney to win Ohio and very doable for him to win the race.”
As Mr. Romney headed to an evening fund-raiser in West Palm Beach, Fla., a reporter asked if he would be campaigning more extensively.
“Ha, ha. We’re in the stretch, aren’t we?” Mr. Romney said before promptly changing the subject and pointing to the sky. “Look at those clouds. It’s beautiful. Look at those things.”
Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting.