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Romney faces pressure to shake things up amid concerns race is slipping away


Mitt Romney has stumbled recently in his quest to unseat President Barack Obama, but GOP stalwarts argue that his presidential campaign isn’t a lost cause and say their nominee still has time to turn things around.

A series of stories – about Obama’s convention bump, Romney’s haphazard response to a diplomatic crisis in Libya, and a POLITICO story about infighting in the Republican’s campaign – fueled a growing consensus that Romney is solidly trailing Obama right now, a feeling supported by polling data both nationally and in key battleground states.

NBC's Peter Alexander, who is traveling with the GOP presidential candidate, reports the Romney campaign is focused on resilience.

That perception was further hardened by the release of videos of Romney speaking to a closed-door fundraiser in May, in which the GOP candidate describes 47 percent of Americans as “dependent on government,” and whom he’ll never convince to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” The videos were surreptitiously taped and published on the website of the left-leaning magazine Mother Jones and dominated the political conversation Tuesday.

Tuesday’s new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, showing Obama at 50 percent versus Romney’s 45 percent among likely voters, only added evidence to this emerging conventional wisdom.

“I’d give the edge to the president today,” said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a seasoned Republican political hand of the state of the race. “But I don’t think that means much; Carter had the edge at this point in 1980 and Gore had the edge at this point in 2000.”

As Mitt Romney heads back on the campaign trail, he doesn't back down from the substance of controversial comments secretly recorded at a private fundraiser.

With just 49 days remaining until the election, there isn’t a lot of time for Romney to reverse the trajectory of the campaign. Television airwaves have been saturated by political ads for months now, and polls suggest that many voters are already “locked in” – that is, firmly dedicated to a candidate – leaving few true swing voters leftover.

"This is a very close campaign. I think all the polls taken together reflect that," Romney adviser Kevin Madden told reporters traveling with Romney on Tuesday. "I think it will be all the way until Election Day."

Madden added that the campaign would be "very well-positioned to win on Election Day if we focus on the issues that matter to the American public."

But the campaign has focused on anything but its stated central focus on the economy during the last few weeks, and Republicans argue that if Romney is to win, something must change in his approach.

“Romney has run a terrible race to this point, but, with that said, he can still win,” said one Republican pollster who asked to speak on background so as to offer more candid analysis. “There's no data point out there that says this is an unwinnable race.”

Jim Young / Reuters

Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney laughs as he prepares to board his campaign plane in Dallas, Texas, Sept. 19.

Conservative media have become openly critical of the Romney campaign strategy, too. The Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan urged party elders to step in and “right this ship;” the Weekly Standard’s John McCormack wrote that the only conclusion to draw from Romney’s missteps was that he is “not a conservative,” and that when he tries to sell himself as one, “he sometimes comes across as a right-wing caricature.”

The Romney campaign tried early Monday to respond to criticism of its strategy by pledging a renewed focus on adding details and specifics to the nominee’s existing proposals. But Republicans seem to be clamoring for something different. Former New Hampshire GOP Chairman Jack Kimball typified the sentiment when, speaking Tuesday at a town hall in the Granite State featuring Paul Ryan, he won an ovation by telling Ryan, “It’s time to take the gloves off.”

The Republican base’s demands of Romney are two-fold: First, be more aggressive in taking the fight to Obama; second, offer a more affirmative agenda on a variety of issues.

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd shares details from the latest NBC News/ WSJ poll, which is the first national one after the conventions.

“He's got to get away from this class warfare argument and make it more about middle class families and small business,” said the pollster. “He's very defensive when he needs to get on offense.”

The open advice reflects the sense that Romney cannot only rely on a poor economy and anti-incumbent anger directed toward Obama. But these are also difficult demands for Romney to meet. As was the case with his accusation that Obama had sympathized with Libyans who attacked the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi (leaving four Americans dead, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens), aggression for its own sake can backfire.

Democratic pollster Peter Hart and Republican pollster Bill McInturff take a closer look at the latest NBC News/ WSJ poll, and explain who "up for grabs" voters are, and how they might act when making a decision in November.

And Romney’s campaign has still offered no indication that it would become any more specific on some central issues, such as the deductions which President Romney would eliminate in order to finance his tax reform plan.

To even accomplish those goals, though, Romney must move past the series of controversies and uproars to dog his campaign for days at a time.

Republicans aren’t particularly sweating the duration of the controversy stemming from the release of these videos. “There will be something more decisive between now and November,” said Cole.

But with the election quickly drawing toward a close, the pressure is mounting on Romney to finally make his move  –  beginning, most importantly, at the Oct. 3 presidential debate in Colorado.

“I think those are the decisive moments in the campaign,” Cole said of the three presidential debates spread throughout October. “That’s where Romney has to make the sale, and has a chance to correct all the mistakes of the campaign to this point.”