Every day you see a steady drip of reports from purported Mitt Romney advisors expressing gloom and doom, if not outright panic. Top Romney advisors on the record tell Right Turn, in essence, that this is bunk. If nothing else, it is clear that the top echelon of advisors are not in panic mode or even down in the dumps. They remain on message, suggesting the complainers are either from outside Boston or lower on the totem pole in the campaign.
Senior advisor Ed Gillespie told me a short time ago in a phone interview, “I’ve never seen a campaign in which there is such a wide gap between reality [and coverage].” He said, “We operate in reality, not reality TV.” He maintains, “The map is not shrinking.” When I asked him about movement in key swing states, he replied, “These are all tight as a tick.” He further argued that the race “is not stagnant,” but it does fluctuate “within a narrow band.” And he said the campaign is one of the most congenial he’s been on and the mood is “upbeat, positive.”
Earlier today, I separately asked senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom to describe the mood in Boston. He put it this way: “I think the word I’d use to describe the mood in Boston is ‘determined.’ We have a highly motivated team focused on doing the things we need to do to win in November.” He resisted the notion that the team has had a rocky period. He shot back, “If anyone’s had a bad week, it’s President Obama. Gas prices are on the rise again, the Federal Reserve is gravely concerned about the lack of jobs, our foreign embassies are under attack and bad economic reports keep coming.” He points to Gallup and Rasmussen tracking polls, which show the race close.
In recent days conservatives have raised questions about both Romney’s money and his message. A New York Times report suggests there is less ad money available than previously thought. Gillespie gives that the back of his hand. He says that throughout the campaign the Obama team has bought ad time 3-4 weeks out ahead while the Romney team buys 1 or 2 weeks out. “On spending point by point we’re pretty close now,” he says. He also notes that at times the mix of broadcast and cable buys may be different for the two campaigns. Fehrnstrom was emphatic with me: “Fundraising is healthy, we outraised President Obama over the summer and we have all the resources we need to run our campaign.” Neither shared any specific numbers.
With regard to message, conservatives have worried that Romney has gotten off track or isn’t seizing opportunities swiftly or aggressively enough, while the wrong track/right trap gap closes for the president. Gillespie says this is a function of the leftover warm and fuzzy feeling from the convention. He argues there is no outside factors that will sustain that sentiment, pointing to a series of economic numbers including unemployment, the deficit, and the jump in healthcare costs. (Just today, the Wall Street Journal reports, “Stocks tapped the brakes on their recent rally, as data pointed toward weakening in global economies. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell nine points, or 0.1%, to 13569, in midday trading on Thursday. The blue chips have climbed 4% over the past two weeks, as the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan have announced stimulus measures.”)
In terms of Romney’s own message, Gillespie emphasizes, the candidate will stress “in remarks, in statements, on the internet, everywhere” the choice between a “a growing economy and an economy that fosters dependency under President Obama.”
As for foreign policy, administration critics are increasingly vocal about the confused response by the Obama administration to the embassy attacks. Gillespie gave no hint that a major address is in the offing, but said Romney was following events closely and, like most Americans, “trying to understand” what the administration’s current story is. (Today the president ducked questions about why the Benghazi consulate wasn’t better protected.)
Whether you believe the Gillespie-Fehrnstrom view of the race or the hysterical voices from the right and left, one thing is crystal clear. Those people who really are at the top of the Romney organization are not despondent nor inclined to grouse. Gillespie suggests that the Romney team has decided to hone its economic message by highlighting the ideological contrasts (and the records) of the two candidates. In other words, what media mavens see as a definitive turn in the race is simply part of the pattern of ups and downs (most immediately the result of the media swarm over Romney’s 47 percent remarks) we’ve seen throughout the race.
Ultimately the race will boil down to execution — in the debates, in ads, in appearances and in turning out the vote. Republicans don’t boast about their voter identification and turnout operation but GOP sources tell me that the Romney-Ryan campaign by the end of September has already knocked on as many doors as were covered in the entire 2008 cycle. The notion that the die is already cast or the Romney team is despondent is a fantasy of the left (or a bad dream of the right). Neither Gillespie nor Fehrnstrom would say Romney is “winning,” but they gave every indication they think the race is winnable.