The slow pace appeared to begin accelerating late Tuesday when Romney swooped into must-win Florida, where he had initially been scheduled to hold only a private fundraiser Wednesday before heading to Virginia. Instead, aides announced that the candidate would add a stop there. Plans for Romney to take this weekend off at his beach house in San Diego also were scrapped, as campaign aides said he will remain on the trail instead.
The abrupt change in Romney’s schedule comes as President Obama appears to have ramped up the enthusiasm around his reelection campaign, marshaling the energy of last week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. Over three days, Obama appeared at six rallies before 23,000 supporters in New Hampshire, Iowa and Florida, stopping at diners and sports bars along the way.
The shift in urgency may help account for the apparent popularity bounce Obama received after his acceptance speech Thursday in Charlotte. A Washington Post-ABC News poll this week shows him leading Romney among registered voters by 50 percent to 44 percent, although the margin narrows to 49 percent to 48 percent among likely voters.
Romney aides and Republican strategists insisted that there is no need for their side to panic. Although Romney did not campaign last week during the Democratic gathering and his public schedule since then has been light, aides stressed that he is raising money, preparing for three 90-minute debates with Obama next month and conducting interviews with national and local television stations.
“It’s a mistake to look at a candidate’s schedule and make broad conclusions about strategy based on how many times they go wheels up or wheels down” to campaign events, said Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, who was a key adviser to GOP nominee John McCain’s campaign in 2008.
“To the extent that the campaign is preparing for those 270 minutes [of debates] at the expense of a frantic daily campaign pace is an encouraging sign for Republicans,” Schmidt added, “because it shows that the campaign is able to discern the difference between things that are more important and less important.”
Still, the Romney team’s last-minute additions of the public events this week appeared to illustrate the feeling on the campaign trail that Obama has drawn public attention away from his rival.
Images from the president’s two-day Florida bus trip helped provide a sense that excitement was building. A crowd of 11,000 waited outside for hours to hear Obama on a hot, humid day in St. Petersburg. Six thousand supporters in Palm Beach sang along to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” at the convention center before the president arrived Sunday.