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Under increasing scrutiny, Romney campaign turns to details


With his campaign strategy under increasing scrutiny, Mitt Romney will pivot toward offering more specifics about his policy proposals, a top adviser to the GOP presidential nominee said Monday.

Charles Dharapak / AP

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney campaigns in the rain at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, Friday, Sept. 14, 2012.

Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie argued Monday that voters are “eager to hear more details” about Romney’s plans, a demand which they will attempt to meet. But this shift toward greater explanation glaringly coincides with escalating, open worries from conservatives that President Barack Obama has opened up an advantage over Romney with just seven weeks to go before Election Day.

“We do think the timing is right at this moment to reinforce the specifics – more specifics – about the Romney plan for a stronger middle class,” Gillespie said on a conference call with reporters.

The Romney campaign has faced mounting criticism of its strategy – which has focused almost solely on emphasizing the incumbent president’s economic management – after Obama emerged from the summer’s dueling political conventions with an edge both nationally and in several key swing states. Discord within the Republican’s camp was detailed in a Sunday evening report in POLITICO, an airing of dirty laundry not typically associated with the efforts of a winning campaign.

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The POLTICO story described a campaign beset by dueling chains of authority, which most notably led to Romney and a top strategist, Stuart Stevens, scrapping initial drafts of his prime-time speech at the Republican National Convention and rewriting the address together in the days before its delivery.

Gillespie asserted that the Romney campaign’s pivot was “more of a natural progression” in the arc of a campaign rather than having been prompted by any specific factor.

But handwringing about Romney, especially among conservatives, many of whom have never fully embraced Romney, is nearing a fever pitch. RedState editor Erick Erickson wrote Monday that Romney “has failed to close any deal with the voters and his message is so muddled no voter really knows what they are getting.”  The posting by Erickson also predicted that Obama would win the election if it were held today.

The Romney campaign has put its best face on the criticism,  not acknowledging or giving any credence to the accusations that things have taken a turn and an adjustment is required to change course.

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“It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and have complaints,” Bay Buchanan, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign, said this morning on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown.”

“We have a very good position today … we have the right message and very strong ads, and the polls show movement,” Buchanan said.

But a campaign built around offering more specifics would mark a departure from how the Romney campaign has organized itself for the better part of the last year and a half.

Romney has often doggedly refused to say, for instance, which specific tax deductions he would eliminate in order to finance the tax cuts he has promised. He has been critical of Obama’s management of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but has not been especially willing to say how he would have handled them differently.

The Republican instead appeared to bet for most of this year that anger toward Obama related to a lackluster economic recovery would be enough to subsume the president come November. In that spirit, Romney has largely run a cautious campaign that avoided giving specifics that might otherwise be turned against him, a strategy he first telegraphed to the conservative Weekly Standard in April.

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"One of the things I found in a short campaign against Ted Kennedy was that when I said, for instance, that I wanted to eliminate the Department of Education, that was used to suggest I don’t care about education," Romney told the magazine. "So will there be some [departments and agencies] that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now."

Shortly after that piece was published, Romney was overheard by NBC News telling donors at a closed-door fundraiser that he would consider eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development and shrink the Department of Education. As Romney predicted, the Obama campaign pounced.

This new push by the Romney campaign won’t center upon offering new policies and proposals, though. Rather, it will focus on adding detail to Romney’s pre-existing plans.

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“We're not rolling out new policy so much as we are making sure that people understand that, when we say we're going to do these things, here's how we're going to get them done, and here are the specifics,” Gillespie said.

As part of its renewed effort, though, Gillespie said Romney and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan would offer more detail in a series of upcoming speeches and events. Ryan will speak, for instance, before the AARP – a group where the Wisconsin congressman’s push to reform Medicare might meet a cool reception.

The Romney campaign also released new ads on Monday morning – including one, “The Romney Plan” –  which also looks to better describe the former Massachusetts governor’s proposals.

Despite any change in approach, Gillespie argued that Romney is still well-positioned to beat Obama this fall. He called the Republican National Convention in Tampa “successful,” and argued that any “bounce” the president had received from his own convention had already dissipated.

Romney also has an additional opportunity available to him in October’s three debates versus Obama to re-orient his campaign. Though Gillespie didn’t make mention of the debates – the first of which is set for Oct. 3 in the swing state of Colorado –  Romney spent much of last week and this weekend preparing for those crucial showdowns.