Mitt Romney will use Wednesday’s presidential debate with Barack Obama to try to get across a clear, unequivocal message after weeks in which he has been accused of leaving voters confused by frequently chopping and changing.
Romney, in an interview with the Denver Post and at a late-night rally in Denver on Monday, offered a preview of his line of attack for the 90-minute debate. Central to his strategy will be to attempt to undo some of the damage caused by the secret video in which he dismissed 47% of Americans as freeloaders.
He will list damning statistics showing the extent to which Americans have become dependent on the federal government, from food stamps to unemployment benefits.
He will also attempt to work into the debate, even though it is supposed to be devoted exclusively to domestic policy, accusations that the White House obfuscated over the killing of US ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
In a sign that Republicans have not yet given up on Romney with five weeks left to election day, one of the biggest of the conservative Super Pacs, American Crossroads, which is run by, among others, Bush’s former adviser Karl Rove, announced Tuesday it had bought $16m in television and radio ads for a week-long blitz in the eight presidential swing states and in four Senate contests.
If Crossroads had decided the election was now unwinnable, it would have shifted the bulk of the money to the Senate races. Instead, it is spending $11m on the presidential race and $5m on the Senate races.
Romney’s campaign team has been engaged for days over what strategy to pursue in the debate and in the weeks left to election day: whether to stick rigidly to the economy, as his main strategist Stuart Stevens advocates, or seek to exploit questions over Obama’s handling of the Middle East.
The internal debate remains unresolved, with campaign advisers briefing journalists that Romney is to adopt a scatter-gun approach in the coming weeks, tackling a range of issues across a broad spectrum. The Romney campaign has had three relaunches in as many weeks.
In contrast with Obama, who is facing no criticism from Democrats over the way he is running his campaign, Republican politicians and conservative commentators have rounded on Romney for what they label a policy vacuum and sought to fill it with conflicting advice, ranging from offering specific policy points to switching to foreign policy.
Ed Gillespie, one of Romney’s campaign advisers, denied that the regular switches in messaging over the last few weeks reflected chaos and insisted it reflected the range of issues facing voters.
In the Denver Post, Romney predicted that after the debate the lines between him and Obama would be clearer. “I think what’s going to happen in this debate is each of us will get the opportunity to describe our pathway forward for America. And for the last several weeks and months, the president has dramatically distorted my own views. I look forward to the debate so people will understand what I actually believe.”
The main line from Romney, according to his campaign advisers, will be that the last four years have been disastrous and that voters don’t want another four years of the same.
At the rally in Denver on Monday night, Romney rehearsed his response to the secret video, arguing that the 47% were dependent on federal aid because of Obama’s policies. The Republican candidate ran through a series of statistics: the number of people on food stamps had risen by 15 million; one in six live in poverty; 23 million are looking for work; and for 43 straight months, unemployment has stood above 8%.
“The economy is not in recovery. We’re not seeing a real recovery. The president’s policies have not worked,” he said.
Conservatives hope that the election will eventually tighten and that the US media, keen to see a dramatic election finish, will jump on the slightest sign of recovery by Romney as a comeback.
But the latest poll, from Quinnipiac University, shows no shift yet in Obama’s lead, putting him at 49% to Romney’s 45%. It records he has an 18% lead over Romney among women, 56% to 38%, and 94% to 2% among African Americans. Romney has a lead among men 52% to 42% while white voters back Romney 53% to 42%.