GOP lawmakers fretting over darkening outlook

Some Republican lawmakers are worried about Mitt Romney’s standing in swing-state polls, which show President Obama leading in a majority of the states that will decide the election.

“If I were Obama I’d be nervous about the economy, but if I were Romney I’d be nervous about demographics,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told The Hill on Tuesday. “The economic condition of the nation cries out for a change in leadership, but when you look at the map, demographics, they do matter. If this is an economic election, we’ll win, but if it’s a demographic election, we’re in trouble.”

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Romney needs to win more than two-thirds of the electoral votes up for grabs to become president, and narrowly trails Obama both nationally and in some key swing states. Polls show few undecided voters remaining, which means Romney will have to win a big chunk of them to carry enough swing states for a victory. The most crucial for him are in Florida, Ohio and Virginia.

Graham said he was “really worried” about Virginia, and said Romney needed to carry that state as well as either Ohio or Florida in order to become president. Obama has held narrow leads in Ohio polls, while in Virginia and Florida the race appears to be a toss-up.

“If we win one of those two [Florida or Ohio] the map gets a lot better for us,” Graham said. “If we lose both, we’re in trouble. If we lose both and Virginia, it’s almost impossible.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) expressed frustration that Romney wasn’t doing better communicating with female and Hispanic voters, and that the struggling economy hadn’t hurt Obama politically as much as she thought it should. Florida and Virginia, as well as the swing states of Nevada and Colorado, have fast-growing Latino populations.

“You have to focus on areas in which they’re demonstrating weakness. That’s why I encourage them on issues concerning women and Hispanics,” she said. “There are things that we could focus on that would make sure that we could ensure drawing support from those key groups. It’s vitally important. And on the question of jobs, it’s hard to believe that the problem of unemployment is not resonating to the depths that it should, given where we stand today.”

Graham and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) had similar worries about the Hispanic vote, and called Romney in January to urge him to tone down his rhetoric in regard to immigration, according to The Daily Beast earlier this summer.

“They need to do more outreach,” McCain, the 2008 GOP nominee, told the online publication about Romney’s Hispanic efforts.

Other lawmakers were less worried about the latest state-level polling, arguing that there was plenty of time for Romney to close in on Obama.

“It’s still very close in virtually every swing state,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), a close Romney confidant who has been helping him with debate preparation. “It’s early. Although we think it’s right around the corner, a month is a year in politics, and we’ve got a couple of months here.”

Portman said Romney was within striking range in Ohio and predicted the national economic picture would swing the race his way.

And Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) said he wasn’t worried about the polls, arguing that Obama was in trouble in Florida.

But West said Romney should talk in more detail about his economic and foreign policy plans in the weeks leading up to the presidential debates.

“It would help — you’ve got to draw a contrast between the failure of the president’s economic policies and how you will be better. You’ve got to talk about some details, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “You can’t wait for the debates; you need to do it before the debates.”

Others said it was still too early to fret about narrow poll deficits.

“On this exact date four years ago my colleague John McCain was going to win the presidency,” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said. “It turns out he didn’t do that. A lot of things change.”

Some Republican strategists were blunter about their worries.

“They’ve got to win three-fourths of the battleground states — that’s a daunting prospect,” said GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak. “The battleground-state map has always been the challenge. Obama changed so much of the map from 2004 to 2008 … There is some concern that [the Romney campaign] hasn’t made better strides with regard to the battleground map.”

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell agreed.

“Romney has to win Ohio, Virginia and Florida, and there’s a bit of a concern the electoral map is narrowing on them,” he said.