After a difficult week that sparked a wave of Republican hand-wringing, Mitt Romney’s campaign team fought back on Monday against a report of disarray in his inner circle and promised to retool his message with more specifics of his policies.
Senior adviser Ed Gillespie struck an optimistic tone despite the Republican worries, saying President Barack Obama’s post-convention bounce in polls had faded and the race for the White House had tightened again ahead of the Nov. 6 election.
The campaign dismissed a Politico report on Sunday night that portrayed a chaotic Romney inner circle led by chief strategist Stuart Stevens, who it described as “the leading staff scapegoat.”
A senior Romney adviser described it as “a silly process story.” But the report raised fresh questions about Romney’s management of a gaffe-plagued campaign that has missed opportunities to take advantage of a struggling economic recovery and lingering high unemployment.
The questions are particularly pertinent for Romney, the former head of a private equity firm who has made his managerial and economic experience the centerpiece of his campaign to boot Obama from the White House.
Most polls have shown Obama taking a solid lead in the race against Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, but Gillespie focused on Monday on a Rasmussen tracking poll showing Romney moving back into a slight lead.
“The post-convention bounce has faded already and is fading for the president,” Gillespie told reporters. “If you look at polling for Romney swing states around the country we’re looking at a dead heat virtually everywhere in the target states.”
Gillespie also said Romney would begin to be more specific about his policies, although he denied it was in direct response to conservative criticism last week that he had not directly engaged Obama in a battle over specific ideas.
“We do think the timing is right at this point to reinforce more specifics about the Romney plan for a strong middle class,” Gillespie said, describing the shift as a “natural progression” as voters pay more attention to the race.
“They’re eager to hear more details about policies to turn our economy around and create 12 million jobs in his first term,” he said.
Romney plans three new advertisements and a series of speeches highlighting a 5-point economic policy to create jobs, cut taxes, bolster small businesses and achieve energy independence.
The shift came after a tough week that saw Romney come under fire from conservatives to be more specific in his policy proposals, and stumble with a quick response to the crisis in the Middle East that critics in both parties said smelled of political opportunism.
The conservative calls for Romney to be more specific peaked after he struggled during a television interview last week to explain what tax loopholes he might close to help offset the cost of his tax cuts, or whether he would keep portions of Obama’s healthcare overhaul.
At a campaign appearance in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Monday, Obama ridiculed Romney for his lack of specifics.
“They want your vote but they don’t want to tell you their plans,” he said of Republicans.
Romney has long had trouble winning over the Republican Party’s most ardent conservatives, who distrust him because of his moderate stances as Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2007, when he backed a state healthcare overhaul that became a model for Obama’s national plan.
But many of the party’s political professionals in Washington and elsewhere also wonder why Romney is not doing better against Obama given the 8.1 percent unemployment rate.
“People are concerned. They figured that he would use the convention to explain what a Romney administration would look like. But he didn’t do it,” a top Republican congressional aide said.
The Politico story portrayed a dysfunctional Romney team that produced multiple versions of his convention acceptance speech right up until the time it was delivered, then failed to mention Afghanistan or U.S. military troops.
Polls showed Romney received no boost from his convention, while Obama got a solid bounce in polls from his gathering a week later. Several polls have shown that Obama bounce beginning to recede, however.
Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said Romney’s supporters should be patient given there are seven weeks and three presidential debates - and one vice presidential debate - remaining in the campaign.
“The campaign is adjusting to the political realities by adjusting its message,” he said. “It’s easy to second-guess from the sidelines, but they have been one of the more disciplined campaigns I have seen as far as messaging and organization.” =