Romney Takes More Aggressive Tone to Reset Presidential Race

Sept. 24 (Bloomberg) -- Bloomberg's Peter Cook breaks down the money game for presidential candidates Barack Obama and Mitt Romney as Romney leads in total cash, but Obama has more under direct control. He speaks on Bloomberg Television's "In The Loop."

Republican Mitt Romney is pivoting to a more aggressive position in his presidential bid, seeking to restore confidence in his campaign and change a growing perception that the race is swinging against him.

With just 43 days before the election and trailing President Barack Obama in polls in crucial swing states, Romney plans to intensify the pace of his public campaign. Speaking to reporters on his campaign plane yesterday, Romney said he intends to spend less time raising money and more time in the coming weeks talking to voters.

“The fundraising season is probably a little quieter going forward,” he said, traveling to a rally in Denver last night. “We’ve been very heavy raising money.”

Romney is seeking to reset his campaign after one of its most difficult weeks, dominated by release of a video, secretly recorded in May, in which he derided almost half of Americans as government-dependent “victims” who don’t pay income taxes. Obama, for his part, sharpened his tone against his rival, raising the prospect that Romney might want to start another war in the Middle East.

“If Governor Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so,” Obama said in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes,” as he prepared to meet world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York today.

In a separate interview for the CBS program, Romney said his threshold for committing combat troops for any conflict was a “high hurdle.”

Party Concerns

Romney and his campaign have dismissed concerns that they are mismanaging the race, attributing his slip in the polls to a wave of Democratic attack advertising that’s been running in swing states since early summer. Last month, Obama spent $66 million on ads, more than tripling Romney’s $18 million.

“They’ve been very aggressive in their attacks both on a personal basis and on a policy basis,” Romney said yesterday.

His own campaign stumbles raised concerns within his party that Romney’s falling poll numbers could reverberate down the Republican ticket, costing congressional seats in competitive Senate and House races.

“He’s got to get off the heels and got to get out and charge forward,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said yesterday on “Fox News Sunday.” “I want to see fire in the belly.”

‘Bad Week’

“We had a bad week,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said today, while stressing that Romney has time to rebound.

“If the election were going to be held tomorrow that would be a problem, but there’s a lot of ground to cover” before the Nov. 6 election, said Christie, who the Romney team chose to deliver the keynote address at last month’s Republican National Convention.

“I don’t think we need to overreact on this,” Christie told reporters after breaking ground on an elementary school in Long Branch, New Jersey.

After complaints from within his party that Romney was spending too much time fundraising, the candidate is planning to hold more public events in swing states, changing his weekend plans to add a rally in Colorado and a telephone town hall with Iowa voters yesterday. After an appearance at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York tomorrow, where Romney plans to talk about the need for more open trade policies and fostering free markets aboard, he’ll embark upon a bus tour in Ohio with running-mate Paul Ryan and hold events in Virginia.

Plea for Help

“I need you to each find at least one person who voted for Barack Obama last time. We need them to come vote for me this time,” Romney told voters gathered for an outdoor rally in Denver last night. “I need your help to do it because this is the state that could decide it.”

As his Oct. 3 debate with Obama nears -- the first of three between them next month -- Romney plans to draw a sharper contrast between his policies and that of the president’s, particularly on trade and energy issues, said senior campaign adviser Ed Gillespie.

“We cannot afford four more years like the last four years,” Gillespie told reporters on a conference call today. “We need a real recovery.”

Fundraising Focus

Since his convention ended a month ago, Romney has held three public rallies a week, according to a review of his campaign schedule. Over that same period, he’s done at least 17 fundraisers, wooing donors at mansions in Long Island and over jumbo crab legs in Las Vegas.

Romney blamed Obama, who declined public financing and the spending limits that go with it, for his aggressive focus on fundraising.

“To be competitive it means a lot more fundraising than I think I would like,” he said. “I’d far rather be spending my time out in the key swing states campaigning, door-to-door if necessary.”

Over the past week, Romney has also attempted to move beyond his videotaped remarks with a new line of attack, charging Obama with failing to improve the economy because he never mastered Washington.

Yesterday, his campaign released a television ad citing a new book by Washington Post (WPO) reporter Bob Woodward that claims that during the 2009 negotiations over the economic stimulus package, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, muted Obama on a speakerphone.

“If he cannot lead his own party, how can he lead America?” the ad says.

Pelosi has denied the incident occurred. “Clearly, this ad is an act of desperation,” she said in a statement released yesterday.

Debate Practice

Romney also is spending hours preparing for the October debates against Obama, match-ups that his staff deem critical for his campaign. Earlier this month, he holed up in a secluded area of Vermont for three days of sessions with advisers. Since then, he’s squeezed in time in hotel rooms on the campaign trail.

Top aides, including campaign manager Matt Rhoades and Ohio Senator Rob Portman -- who’s playing the role of Obama in practice sessions -- flew to Los Angeles to spend hours rehearsing with Romney at the JW Marriott yesterday morning.

Romney said yesterday that the debates will give him an opportunity to help dispel what he views as “inaccurate portrayals” of his positions on abortion, taxes, and the federal rescue of the automobile industry.

“He’s trying to fool people into thinking that I think things I do and that ends I think during the debates,” he said.

Fighting Complacency

Obama advisers, too, see the debates as pivotal in the campaign. They’re urging supporters not to get complacent, saying the race will still be tight.

“Structurally, the way the politics of our country are set up, we knew it was going to be a close race,” said Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod on ABC’s “Face the Nation.” “We’re prepared for a close race.”

Obama’s campaign last night debuted its first television ad targeting Romney’s comments about Americans who don’t pay income taxes, saying the Republican nominee should stop attacking others about his taxes and “come clean” about his own. Romney released a second year of his tax returns on Sept. 21, disclosing that he and his wife, Ann, paid an effective tax rate of 14.1 percent on $13.7 million of income in 2011.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lisa Lerer in Denver at llerer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at jcummings21@bloomberg.net

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