The Washington Post

Mitt Romney refocuses campaign on economy and policy details

For Mitt Romney, it’s time to get down to details.

With just 50 days to go until Election Day, the Republican presidential candidate plans to reinforce the specifics of what he would do as president, offering voters a rationale for his candidacy by specifically addressing what he would do to help struggling middle-class families at a time when more voters are beginning to pay attention to the years-long presidential campaign.

“We do think the timing is right to reinforce more specifics about the Romney plan for a strong middle class,” Romney campaign senior adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters Monday, saying the campaign has reviewed polling data that suggests voters are eager to hear more details from the campaign about what policies Romney would adopt as president.

Gillespie called the shift “more of a natural progression” than a campaign overhaul.

“There are a lot of Americans out there who are just really starting to lock in and starting to look for more information and now is the time for us to provide that for them,” Gillespie said.

The Romney campaign’s recalibration comes as recent polls show the GOP candidate losing his lead over President Obama on the issues of tax reform and deficit reduction and amid fresh reports of turmoil among senior Romney campaign staffers.

Several recent polls suggest Obama is taking the lead on the question of which candidate is better equipped to handle tax reform and deficit reduction. Neil Newhouse, Romney’s chief campaign pollster, acknowledged Monday that the campaign could probably do a better job explaining the differences.

“I’m not sure that voters really understand the difference between the plans that Romney has and Obama has,” Newhouse told reporters. “That’s one thing we’re committed to trying to do moving forward is defining the difference between the two candidates on taxes.”

Gillespie and Newhouse didn’t face any direct questions Monday about reports in Politico detailing concerns with Romney’s lead political strategist, Stuart Stevens, and his handling of the Republican National Convention. But in a subtle nod to the stories, Gillespie said the convention focused instead on introducing Romney to the general public in order to respond to “millions and millions of dollars in 30-second ads attacking Romney.”

Romney himself batted away suggestions of campaign turmoil.

“I’ve got a terrific campaign,” Romney said in an interview Monday with Spanish-language network Telemundo, according to NBC News. “My senior campaign people work extraordinarily well together.” He added that there will be “no changes” to his staff in the wake of the reports about Stevens.

Romney’s five-point economic plan released in August focuses on energy independence, education reform, changes in U.S. trade policy, deficit reduction and easing the regulatory burden on small businesses. The plan includes general proposals to quickly approve off-shore oil exploration and construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, to broaden access to higher education, repeal the 2010 health-care reform law and trim the federal workforce by attrition. To date, Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), have spent little time discussing the specifics of their plan.

But a new 30-second television ad released Monday amounts to one of Romney’s most direct attempts to explain his plan to voters.

“My plan is to help the middle class,” Romney says in the ad. “Trade has to work for America. That means crack down on cheaters like China. It means opening up new markets. Next, got to balance the budget. You’ve got to cut the deficit. You’ve got to stop spending more money than we take in.”

“And finally,” Romney says, “champion small business. Have tax policies, regulations, and healthcare policies that help small business. We put those in place, we’ll add 12 million new jobs in four years.”

A second Romney ad set for release this week more sharply accuses Obama of driving down median household income by roughly $4,000 while the national deficit surpassed $16 trillion.

Romney also is expected to detail some of his specific plans in Los Angeles on Monday during a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the first of two attempts this week to woo the nation’s Hispanic voters. Aides said Romney will use the Monday speech and an appearance Wednesday on the Spanish-language television network Univision to talk about his plans to help small-business owners and why he thinks Obama’s health-care overhaul hurts Hispanic entrepreneurs.

In his remarks Monday, Romney will adapt his general economic message to his Latino audience, noting that while the nation’s unemployment sits at 8.1 percent, unemployment among Hispanics hovers at 10 percent.

According to excerpts of Romney’s speech released by his campaign, the candidate will say that Obama “wants government to tax more and regulate more because he believes government can do a better job than you can. I believe in you. I believe you can do a better job than government.”

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.
Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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