Mitt Romney shifted his campaign strategy this week, intensifying his swing-state schedule and hammering President Obama with his own campaign slogans.
The GOP presidential nominee needs to turn the page from recent stumbles as the campaign season heads into October, a month that features either a presidential or vice presidential debate every week. Furthermore, Romney is primed to take advantage of obligations that will keep Obama largely away from the swing states.
In addition to his swing through the Buckeye state, Romney is expected to visit Denver, Colo., on Sunday and Monday, according to the city's Fox affiliate, although details of that trip have not yet been released. It will be Romney's first trip to the state in more than a month.
And, in Florida on Thursday, Romney added new lines to his stump speech, pouncing on Obama's remark that “you can’t change Washington from the inside," saying the president had "thrown the white flag of surrender."
"I couldn't believe it when the president of the United States said he couldn't get change from the inside," Romney said, adding that Obama's slogan has gone from “Yes we can” to “No I can’t.”
Romney riffed repeatedly on the line during the speech and used some familiar Obama themes to drive home his message.
"He went from the president of change to the president who can't get change," Romney said.
Romney has only held 15 campaign rallies since accepting the Republican nomination 21 days ago — much of his time being devoted to closed-door private fundraisers — so the intensified pace is a marked change as Election Day nears.
His schedule has drawn some criticism from Republican allies, who believe Romney should focus more on retail politics.
"I think what Romney needs to do is get into Virginia and run for sheriff," Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamThe Hill's 12:30 Report Graham: Trump would make mistake in not punishing Russia Graham to vote for Trump’s EPA pick MORE (R-S.C.) told CNN on Wednesday. "This is not rocket science."
Republican strategists agree that Romney needs to find a new way to connect with swing voters. Although his campaign has been marked by missteps in recent weeks, the polls remain relatively close and internal polls show a surprising number of voters remain persuadable.
"He's got to relentlessly barnstorm and put shoe leather on the ground," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. "Part of that is getting on the local affiliate news, which for many voters is the only couple of minutes a day they'll spend gathering information."
The Romney campaign says the bus tour is not a change of strategy, but instead the logical next step in building a case for Romney's economic plan. Team Romney has been flooding the airwaves in recent days with commercials that outline the Republican nominee's financial plan, and recent events featuring Romney and Ryan have been explicitly oriented around promoting their economic vision.
"It’s a natural evolution and was always a part of the plan – we have done tons of bus tours before and we were always going to do more this fall," said a Romney aide.
But Republicans also say the intensified schedule is seeking to exploit a void provided by Obama's obligations as president. The incumbent will spend the beginning of next week in New York attending a meeting of the United Nations, may confer with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, and is scheduled to appear at the Clinton Global Initiative conference. While the president is expected to fit in some swing-state campaigning later in the week, he also needs to attend fundraisers of his own — most of which are concentrated in safely Democratic states.
"You're always reacting to what the opponent is doing and the opportunities that presents," said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. "The events in Libya, for example, gave Boston a real opportunity that they were unable to take full advantage of, but the UN gives them another opportunity to focus on foreign policy problems for the president."
The bus tour also gives Romney the ability to saturate swing states, a luxury that might not be available to the president. A source familiar with Obama's schedule says the president will look to make a series of day-trips as Election Day nears, cramming multiple stops in the way he did on Thursday as he traveled to Florida or what he will do in Wisconsin on Saturday. While the president is lucky that many swing states are a short flight from Washington, he and his staff do not have the same advantages of a Republican ticket without separate day jobs.
And while some Republicans have been privately and publicly clamoring for more face time from their nominee, the candidates have each attended almost exactly the same number of public campaign events over the past two months.
The Romney campaign is also looking to battle back against the Obama's frequent appearances on non-traditional media outlets. The president's appearance last week on "The Late Show with David Letterman" provided the talk show's highest ratings in more than two years, and the first lady will join the president for an appearance on "The View" next week.
But the Romneys, who have typically shied away from interviews on outlets other than Fox News, have booked more nontraditional media appearances. The couple appeared together this week on a taping of "Live with Kelly and Michael," and Ann Romney will tape an appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" next week.
"You're never going to get Jay-Z or Beyoncé, but while that portrays the image of 'cool', it doesn't necessarily translate in battleground states, and so Romney just needs to stay in it," said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.
Romney should also feel somewhat liberated from the need to fundraise after the third financial reporting quarter concludes at the end of the month. All indications are that Romney will have more than enough money to stay afloat until Election Day, and the end of quarterly reporting requirements take some pressure of the horse-race aspect of fundraising. The third quarter reports are the last that become public before the election.
"Fundraising does show a measure of enthusiasm in the money game, but very shortly, money isn't going to make a difference anymore, it's going to be turnout and that's what they're now targeting," said Bonjean.
Republicans also say that while Romney and Ryan haven't necessarily been as visible in recent days, they have been working hard behind the scenes to shore up support with donors and political allies who became skittish after recent missteps. At a closed-door conference meeting Thursday with the House Republican caucus, Ryan urged his colleagues to rally behind the campaign.
"This is going to be an up and down race,” Ryan said, according to a Republican aide in the room. “Three polls came out that have us within one point. They are going to [try to] distract us.”
That handholding — coupled with loyalty on Capitol Hill to Ryan, who is seen as by legislators as "one of their own" — has prevented the type of defections one would normally expect with a struggling presidential campaign, strategists say. And by smoothing the waters, the ticket should be more free in the coming weeks to focus solely on meeting voters.
"I think they've spent a pretty good amount of time over the last 72 hours or so reassuring party leaders and donors, I think we're turning the page on this now," said Mackowiak. "Now it's about really narrowing their focus on key battleground states and focusing more on Ohio and Virginia to move them back into the tossup category."
— Amie Parnes and Russell Berman contributed