The Washington Post

Is Mitt Romney panicking?

This week has not been a good one for Mitt Romney.

First, his campaign pollster -- the widely respected Neil Newhouse -- put out a polling memo, seeking to discredit the idea of a post-convention bump for President Obama, that seemed decidedly defensive.

Then came his campaign's controversial comments on the Obama Administration's posture toward the Middle East, comments that Romney doubled down on during a Wednesday morning press conference even after it was revealed that the U.S. ambassador to Libya had been killed. That series of events has some within the party concerned that the race is slipping from them, or at least that their nominee is acting as though that's the case.

"They allow tactics to dictate strategy, instead of vice versa," said John Weaver, a Republican strategist. "Where is the narrative? Where is conduct representing what a President Romney would do?"

Added another Republican consultant granted anonymity to speak candidly: "I wished they’d panicked months ago; that’s when I started to. Their biggest problem is the state-by-state situation in the swing states, and that situation has been clear for a really long time." (The Fix wrote about Obama's Electoral College advantage on Wednesday morning.)

The source added that the "blooper" on Libya followed another misstep over the weekend, in which Romney's comments on "Meet the Press" suggested he would retain some elements of Obama's health care law if elected.

"How can you overturn Obamacare as your first act in office and then say that (the) parts (that test well in the polls) should be kept?" asked the source.

Even those who downplayed the significance of Romney' s statements on Libya acknowledged that the campaign is not at a high point at the moment.

"All campaigns are a roller coaster, and this one is no different," said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committeeman from Mississippi. "I believe Romney is going to win."

Said another senior party strategist who remains bullish about Romney's chances: "I can't explain the Libya thing."

Romney allies insist that the second-guessing amounts to nitpicking and over-analysis.  No one outside of the professional political class and media noticed the Newhouse memo, they argue, and the takeaway from the Libya flap for your average swing voter in Ohio was that Romney was standing up for America. And, they add, there's absolutely no reason for panic since polling in swing states shows Romney within the margin of error -- although typically running behind Obama.

And, as we have said before, foreign policy ain't going to decide this election. But, with media outlets making clear that Romney appeared to jump the gun on his statement Tuesday night, this episode now seems certain to dominate the narrative of the campaign for days -- if not longer.

That means Romney isn't talking about the economy and Obama's handling of it. That might not be panic, but it's also not good.

Ad spending update: NBC News is out with great recap of how much money has been spent on ads in each state so far in the presidential race, and how much each group has spent.

In short, Obama's campaign has far outspent Mitt Romney's campaign so far, $222 million to $87 million. But if you factor in outside groups, Romney and the GOP have outspent Obama, $307 million to $276 million.

A look at state-by-state ad spending shows the two sides spending about the same amount of money in most swing states: Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Democrats have invested significantly more than the GOP in Ohio ($62 million to $52 million), while Republicans have spent more in North Carolina ($36 million to $22 million), Wisconsin ($8 million to $4 million), Michigan ($8 million to basically nothing) and Minnesota ($3 million to basically nothing).

For all the latest in ad spending, make sure to bookmark The Post's "Mad Money" ad tracker.

Fixbits:

A new Fox News poll shows Obama moving from a one-point deficit before the conventions to a five-point advantage today.

Support for a possible third party falls to its lowest point in eight years.

Jason Sudeikis, who has played Mitt Romney on Saturday Night Live, is staying with the show.

A new Albuquerque Journal poll shows Gov. Susana Martinez (R) with a remarkable 69 percent approval rating.

Democratic automated pollster Public Policy Polling shows Obama up double digits in the Land of Enchantment.

Former congressman Jay Inslee (D) outraised state Attorney General Rob McKenna (R) last month in the Washington governor's race.

Erskine Bowles endorses independent former Maine governor Angus King for Senate.

A new nonprofit is spending millions to save Blue Dog Democrats.

The Democratic super PAC House Majority PAC is up with a new ad against Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.).

Must-reads:

"Exploding the Reagan 1980 Comeback Myth" -- Nate Cohn, The New Republic

"Todd Akin returns to campaign trail" -- Diana Reese , Washington Post

"Keeping Up With the Kennedys" -- Edith Zimmerman, New York Times

"Suburbs are the key to victory in Colorado" -- Amy Gardner, Washington Post

"Challengers of voting-law changes win some battles, but outcomes still unsettled" -- Robert Barnes, Washington Post

"Obama Grows More Reliant on Big-Money Contributors" -- Nicholas Confessore, New York Times

"For Veteran Envoy, Return to Libya Was Full of Hope" -- Steven Lee Myers, New York Times

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Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

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