Mitt Romney's campaign said Monday it would look to emphasize a concrete choice between President Obama and the GOP nominee over the final five weeks of the election, hoping to depict a stark contrast that could woo swing voters that may not have fully committed to the president.
"This is something we're going to push all the way through Election Day, which is, we can't afford another four years like the last four years," said Romney adviser Kevin Madden on a conference call with reporters. "This is a theme we're going to integrate across every aspect of our campaign, and that includes the upcoming debates, that's going to include the governor's events in key battleground states, and will also be included in terms of paid advertising and be part of our message as volunteers fan out across the country."
But it's not clear that the strategy has resonated where it needs to. In a Des Moines Register poll released Monday, half of all voters say they disapprove of the president's handling of the economy. Yet Romney trails Obama when those surveyed were asked who would be better to fix the nation's economic woes.
The aides to the Romney campaign conceded that there were some voters signaling support for the president's reelection despite being disappointed with his record, and said their challenge was winning them over in the final days of the campaign.
"There are a number of voters out there who may be registering some level of support for President Obama that is very soft, and the charge for us is what are we going to do to make the case to them that Gov. Romney has a better vision for the future," Madden said.
The Romney aide added that swing voters "haven't concluded that [President Obama is] worthy of his support right now," and that the campaign believes it can poach back those swing voters who might have begun to break for the president.
"Our message is very clear," said Romney adviser Ed Gillespie. "Which is ... we need a real recovery, we need policies that will help the American people, and here they are."
It will be critical for the Republican nominee to not just stick to that message, but have it resonate in Wednesday's debate, which could prove a critical turning point in the 2012 campaign.
The Iowa polling data mirrored much of the news last week, where polls showed Obama leading not just overall, but on issues of economic stewardship and leadership. A CBS News/New York Times poll of Ohio and Florida found a majority of voters believed the president "cares about your needs and problems," while Romney does not, and majorities of Florida, Ohio, and Virginia voters in a Washington Post poll said the president "better understands the economic problems" of Americans.
"I believe that if you listen to the governor, he's talking about the folks who are experiencing the household income decline — he talks about it all the time, the $4,300," said Gillespie. "If you approve they Keystone XL pipeline you would have 20,000 Americans working on the pipeline who were standing on the unemployment line. ... So, when you look at the Romney plan for the stronger middle class it is very much oriented toward those who are having a hard time in this economy."
But while Romney is looking to regain traction, Obama will be looking to put his Republican opponent away. The president has seen some success highlighting Romney's "47 percent" comments, made at a closed-door fundraiser earlier this year — an ad airing frequently in battleground states features simply the audio of the event — and is likely to again emphasize the remarks in the debates.
But the Romney campaign insisted Monday it was ready to defend against that kind of attack by highlighting the president's record.
"We wouldn't be surprised obviously if that came up in the debate, and the governor's prepared obviously to respond about it. ... The fact is, as Gov. Romney has said repeatedly, he is running to help 100 percent of Americans, especially the 23 million Americans who are struggling to find work, the one in six Americans living in poverty today, the 15 million more Americans who are on food stamps as a result of President Obama's policies," said Madden.
The hope is that, having failed to turn the election solely into a referendum on the president, the Romney team can satisfy voter's desire for a forward-thinking economic message by depicting the race as a choice — but a choice heavily colored by disappointments during the president's first term.
"This choice is a choice about going forward with a stagnant, government-centered economy, or a dynamic, free enterprise-based economy that is pro-growth and fosters economic opportunity and upward mobility. ... So we think the choice is very clear," said Gillespie.