The Washington Post

Mitt Romney to pick up pace in new phase of 2012 campaign

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is picking up the pace of his campaign. (Rich Schultz/AP)

After a relatively low-key start to his second presidential campaign, Republican front-runner Mitt Romney plans to pick up his pace this month as the 2012 sweepstakes intensifies, with a blitz of appearances in early-voting states and a list of policy proposals.

In what his top advisers described as a new phase of his campaign, the former Massachusetts governor will focus almost exclusively on what he considers President Obama’s greatest vulnerabilities: the economy and job creation. Romney plans to continue his relentless assault on Obama while avoiding any engagement with his Republican opponents.

In August, Romney plans to hold seven town hall events in New Hampshire, where he owns a vacation home and which will hold what he views as a must-win primary. He is scheduled to spend two days campaigning in Iowa, home to the nation’s first caucuses, and will hold fundraisers and possibly public events elsewhere across the country, including California, New York, Texas and Utah.

His campaign will intensify further in September, when he has committed to take the stage at three debates and plans to begin rolling out a detailed policy agenda with a series of major speeches.

Romney has kept a deliberately quiet profile in the early months of the campaign, even as he has faced pressure from some supporters to escalate his public activity. It’s a strategy that seems to have served him well, as he has amassed a monetary advantage and kept his lead in polls.

But the Aug. 13 Iowa straw poll and the potential competition from Texas Gov. Rick Perry are likely to change the contours of the race and might be the strongest challenge yet to Romney’s front-runner status.

Romney’s advisers said the campaign’s new energy is not a reaction to Perry’s emergence or any other developments in the race.

“There’s a reason the success of Christmas sales in July is not tremendous,” said Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist. “There’s a rhythm to these things, and you want to talk about stuff when people are paying attention. I just think a whole level of people are going to begin to start to focus more in the fall.”

Stevens said Romney is “working like a dog.” Indeed, his travel itinerary over the past few months has been intense. But the majority of his visits have been for fundraising events closed to the media. Last week, he held just one public event, a factory tour and speech in Pataskala, Ohio. He has no events planned for this week; aides said he is resting with his family in New Hampshire at their home on Lake Winnipesaukee.

Romney will begin his new push on Monday with a town hall meeting in Nashua, N.H. From there, he plans to head to Iowa, where he will campaign Aug. 10 and visit the State Fair on Aug. 11 before that evening’s debate in Des Moines. Romney, who is skipping the straw poll, will return to New Hampshire on Aug. 12 for a forum at Republican activist Ovide Lamontagne’s house in Manchester. Romney plans more New Hampshire town hall events on Aug. 15 in Plymouth, Aug. 16 in Berlin, Aug. 24 in Lebanon, and Aug. 25 in Kingston and Dover.

“We understand that winning New Hampshire is not something that is given to somebody, but it’s something that is earned. And it can really only be earned by being there and meeting with voters where they live and work,” said Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to Romney. “That requires time and commitment, and so this is just a down payment on the visits we’ll be making there over the next four to five months.”

Romney has been facing more criticism from the other Republicans in the field, in particular former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who is trying to chip away at his opponent’s lead in New Hampshire.

Romney avoided taking positions on the daily debt negotiations in Washington, instead broadly emphasizing principles: a budget that is “cut, capped and balanced.” On Monday, he said he did not support the deal because it did not meet those standards, leading Huntsman to accuse him of “zero leadership.”

“To dodge the debate or to wait until the debate is over effectively and to take a side, I don’t consider that to be leadership,” Huntsman said Monday in New Hampshire.

Romney plans to largely ignore this and other attacks from GOP competitors, his advisers said, and instead train his attention on Obama.

“This process either elevates you, or it makes you smaller,” Stevens said. “I think anybody going after another candidate in this environment rather than talking about the central issue is going to have a very difficult time not making themselves seem more like a state representative than a future president of the United States.”

Fehrnstrom said that “voters may see some bickering from time to time,” but that “we believe we attract Republican base votes by relentlessly taking on Obama. It’ll continue to be our guiding light in terms of strategy.”

Romney’s advisers are frustrated that he has been accused of dodging the primary election and being presumptuous in waging a general-election battle against Obama. In the 2008 campaign, Romney veered from issue to issue without a disciplined message. His new, singular focus on the president is a source of pride.

Said Stevens: “Every day I walk around this campaign and I feel like it’s October 15, 2012. We’re able to engage the president here, and when you’re engaging the president, you need to be on your A-game. That’s the approach.”

Stevens and Fehrnstrom drew a historical parallel between Romney’s campaign and Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign.

“Our view is that the primary is about the same thing as the general,” Fehrnstrom said. “That’s replacing Barack Obama with a leader who can take the country in a new direction. That was true in 1980, when Ronald Reagan ran against Jimmy Carter. He attacked Carter every day, beginning on the day he announced his candidacy.”

But they didn’t mention the fact that Reagan entered the race as the leader of a conservative movement within the Republican Party, a perch Romney does not have. Or that Reagan’s campaign was hardly flawless. He lost the Iowa caucus to George H.W. Bush. A few weeks later, Reagan’s campaign manager and a cadre of top aides resigned en masse.

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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