Mitt Romney’s team has a more-than-plausible theory about how to win the presidential election in a time of economic duress. The key question is whether that theory can survive the summer storm that threatens to envelop the Republican’s candidacy.
Romney’s operation is under a relentless and carefully choreographed assault from President Obama’s campaign, which has used the new media environment to feed and amplify a negative advertising effort that has cost tens of millions of dollars.
The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez reports on the pressure that Mitt Romney is getting from the left and right to release 12 years of his tax returns.
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“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us,” the president said.
Whatever obstacles Romney faced from his rivals in his long battle in the primaries, nothing compares with the tenacity of the president’s Chicago-based operation.
As a result, Obama’s team has been controlling the campaign debate. A few weeks ago, it was about Bain Capital’s role in shipping jobs overseas. Last week, it was about the terms and timing of when Romney left the private-equity firm. This week, it’s whether Romney will be forced to release more tax returns than he has said he would. Next week could be something else.
Romney’s campaign officials are looking for ways to respond to the Obama attacks more effectively and turn the fire back on the president. They haven’t had much luck. They must reassure themselves and their fellow Republicans that whatever damage they are sustaining can be reversed with a strong national convention, a solid vice presidential pick, the fall debates and a focus on the president’s economic record.
This may represent one of the great gambles in presidential politics. Romney’s Boston-based team projects confidence in its theory of the contest — that the outcome will turn on the economy and judgments about the president’s handling of it and not on the issues being discussed now. Its view was summed up by one of Romney’s senior advisers: If the campaign has to hit a rough patch, better it happen in July than October.
But many Republicans are nervous. They fear the ground could be shifting. They wonder why the Romney campaign seemed ill-prepared for the attacks on Bain. They wish Romney would shut down questions about his tax returns by turning over more years than just 2010 and 2011 (which are not yet done). Some are saying this publicly. Others, Romney advisers say, are offering plenty of private and unsolicited advice to Boston as well.
Romney’s team sought to calm Republicans (and change the media narrative) by issuing a memo from campaign pollster Neil Newhouse that said Obama’s attacks have done little or nothing to change the overall polls, which continue to show an extremely close race. That may be the only thing the two sides agree on right now.
Senior advisers to Obama and Romney say the electorate is so closely divided, with so few truly undecided voters, that the surveys will not move dramatically between now and Election Day. Beyond that, there is a huge difference in how advisers to the two see the contest developing and, therefore, the significance of what is happening in what normally is a relatively calm season in presidential campaigns.