There is another reason staff changes aren’t likely. The turmoil wouldn’t be worth it. Romney would lose a week or more to the story at a time when every day is critical. Some Republicans who are loyal to Romney have concluded that Obama’s team has run a better campaign, but they still say that, given economic conditions, the president is vulnerable and Romney can win.
Obama outspent his rival on television ads during the conventions, a decision by the GOP nominee’s team that outsiders are second-guessing. Romney has the money to spend freely now. But as one strategist noted, drawing back voters who may have slipped away during the summer will be harder now.
Romney advisers note that the Gallup tracking poll that showed the president with a six-point lead last week now shows the rivals separated by three points. That’s better than things looked a week ago, but Obama’s three-point margin is still significant, given how stable the race was for so many months. And the president’s approval rating in the Gallup track has held at 50 percent since the Democratic convention.
That’s why so much depends on Romney. In the estimation of allies and opponents, Romney still hasn’t found his voice as a candidate or a message compelling enough to win over persuadable voters. To these strategists, he hasn’t risen to the challenge of defining his presidency. In Devine’s words, Romney needs real substance, not “fluffy substance,” in his message.
Romney has an opportunity to define real substance as he tours the country over the next two weeks. But the most opportune moment will come on Oct. 3, when he and Obama will meet in Denver for the first of their three presidential debates. That first face-to-face contest, McKinnon said, is “the best and maybe last chance” for Romney to turn the campaign decisively in his direction.
One GOP strategist close to the campaign, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid advice, said that this is a time in the election cycle when voters begin to take a last good look at the candidates and that the first debate must be the moment for Romney to rise.
If he doesn’t do well there, the strategist concluded, “I am not sure folks will pay as much attention to later ones.”
Past candidates have used debates to change the race, even if temporarily. Amid doubts and criticism, can Romney do the same?
For previous columns by Dan Balz, go to postpolitics.com.