WASHINGTON — Republican Mitt Romney will spend the coming weeks trying to tell voters how he plans to govern the country, shifting his strategy in recognition of demand from voters that the GOP nominee outline his vision for the future instead of just criticizing Democratic President Barack Obama.
Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie outlined the new tack in a conference call with reporters Monday, saying voters are "eager" to hear more about Romney's specific policy proposals.
Voters "know that he has a plan, which is a good thing, but we also know that they'd like to know a little bit more of the specifics, and we're going to meet the demands," Gillespie said.
With just 50 days until the election, Romney launched a new round of TV ads and planned a renewed focus on policy in speeches and campaign appearances. The new emphasis follows increasingly vocal criticism from Republicans who have suggested their nominee is running a timid and vague campaign. The push, aimed at easing those fears, comes as key Romney aides have also been tasked with leading a behind-the-scenes effort to calm dissention in the ranks and reassure nervous donors and consultants about the state of the campaign.
Still, campaign aides were unable to identify any new policy proposals that would be included in the push. Romney has been advocating a five-point economic plan since returning from a trip to Europe in July. Gillespie said Romney would re-emphasize plans to encourage energy independence by renewing the Keystone XL pipeline, cut the deficit by limiting the growth of government programs and lower taxes across the board without shifting more of the tax burden to the middle class. But Gillespie, pressed for details, could not identify loopholes Romney's tax plan might close to keep that tax promise or point to any government departments that might be cut to reduce deficit spending.
"We're not rolling out new policies ... so much as we are making sure people understand when we say we can do these things, here's how we're going to get them done and these are the specifics," said Gillespie, who joined Romney's team late in the primary election season in a top strategy and messaging role that he continues to hold.
In newly published public opinion polls, Romney has lost the edge he held over Obama as the candidate better able to handle the federal budget deficit and taxes. Romney pollster Neil Newhouse attributed Obama's gains on the deficit spending issue to the overall bump the president received after the Democratic convention at the beginning of September. But on taxes, Newhouse acknowledged Romney needs to do more to distinguish himself from the president.
"I'm not sure that voters really understand the differences between the plans Mitt Romney has and Obama has," Newhouse said. "And I think that's one thing we're committed to trying to do in moving forward is defining the differences between the two candidates on taxes."
Romney's campaign advisers also said they plan to broaden focus from just the economy, including a planned speech on education policy and a focus on the ongoing crisis in the Middle East.
"Economic and foreign policy are both very important in this presidential campaign. We will also take opportunities to take advantage of specific venues or events to address significant issues that we don't always hit as part of the Romney plan but are part of his policy agenda," Gillespie said.
Romney's new television ads focus in broad strokes on the policy proposals he's already laid out.
"My plan is to help the middle class," the Republican nominee says in a new TV ad in which he promises to cut the deficit, balance the budget, reduce spending and help small businesses. "We'll add 12 million new jobs in four years."
It was one of two new commercials he launched in the most competitive states — the other assails Obama as bad for middle-class families — while also starting a new effort to try to narrow Obama's advantage with Hispanic voters.
The emphasis on Romney's plans for the future comes after a week in which Republican veterans of presidential campaigns publicly implored the GOP nominee to give voters a clearer sense of how he would govern, saying that simply castigating Obama wouldn't be enough to win. The new effort also follows a series of polls that show Obama with an edge nationally and in key states, and amid reports of infighting at Romney's Boston-based campaign.
With griping in GOP circles mounting, Romney and his advisers spent the weekend in Boston hashing out a plan to try to shift the dynamics of the race before the first debate on Oct. 3.
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate, was to emphasize that pitch in appearances this week while also zeroing in on the debt and deficit.
Romney, for his part, was starting the week with a speech Monday to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles as he looks to narrow Obama's advantage with these Democratic-leaning voters in key battleground states.
The campaign also was working to counter the notion of a campaign in disarray after a Sunday story on the Politico website detailed infighting among Romney's senior staffers. Campaign advisers worked to downplay those tensions and insisted the campaign is still on track.
"Obama's entire foreign policy is in flames. The economy is terrible. Let's get a little distance from the convention," top strategist Stuart Stevens wrote in an email Sunday morning, seeking to counter the notion of a campaign in a downward spiral.
It's been a tough few weeks for Romney.
Trouble began with Clint Eastwood's rambling conversation with a chair on the final night of the Republican convention, right before Romney's keynote address omitted the war in Afghanistan or a thanks to the troops serving there.
The intervening weeks have been scattered. Romney ducked battleground states as he hunkered down in Vermont for debate preparation, then spent days defending his decision to omit war from the convention speech. Polls showed the Democratic convention gave Obama a boost.
Then violence erupted in Egypt and Libya, prompting Romney to issue a statement criticizing the Obama administration before it was known that an American ambassador and three other U.S. citizens had died in Libya. Romney doubled down on his criticism in a news conference the next day.
That drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans alike.
Thomas reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.