WASHINGTON — Republican candidate Mitt Romney seems to have gotten the message from GOP critics.
The party's presidential nominee plans to spend more time talking about his policy proposals in the coming weeks — a tacit acknowledgment that it will take more than criticizing President Barack Obama on the economy to win in November. By doing so, he's heeding the advice of Republicans who have been pushing him to fill in the gaps for voters still trying to understand what a Romney presidency would look like as polls show the president ahead nationally and in key states.
But don't expect new proposals or any additional details about Romney's plans. He's mostly repackaging previously announced positions as he grapples for a way to curb Obama's momentum before next month's debates. Romney aides, meanwhile, are working behind the scenes to calm dissension in the GOP ranks and reassure nervous donors and consultants about the state of a race some Republicans worry may be getting away from their nominee.
"Our campaign is doing well," Romney insisted Monday in a Telemundo interview, hours after his advisers held a conference call to outline the path ahead. The candidate dismissed the notion that his campaign was in trouble and brushed aside reports of staff infighting, saying the public doesn't focus on what he called "process stories"
"I've got a terrific campaign," Romney added. "My senior campaign people work extraordinarily well together. I work well with them."
His effort to emphasize his proposals began Monday with a pair of new TV ads focused on "The Romney Plan" after aides spent the weekend huddling at the campaign's Boston headquarters to figure out how to shift the dynamics of the race before the debates begin Oct. 3. Romney has spent a significant amount of time preparing for those face-to-face match ups with Obama.
Advisers say Romney is working to convince voters that he is running on a serious plan to change the country, and that the strategy shift was intended to reinforce the campaign's core message that Romney is the candidate with a five-point plan to fix the economy and get Americans back to work.
"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," Ed Gillespie, a top Romney strategist, told reporters Monday.
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.
Romney pollster Neil Newhouse also acknowledged that 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."
Some Republicans welcomed Romney's attempts to emphasize his plans more.
"Many swing voters are ready to throw Obama out of office if Mitt Romney gives them some clear substance of how he will help them if elected," said Keith Appell, a Republican strategist not aligned with Romney's campaign.
Romney sought to start filling in the gaps Monday in a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles. But he broke no new ground and instead discussed plans he already has proposed.
Romney talked about his plans to cut the federal deficit and balance the budget. He said he would cut federal funding for Amtrak, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation and the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.
The former Massachusetts governor also said he would try to stem the growth of federal programs by limiting their funding to the rate of inflation, and for Medicaid, the rate of inflation plus 1 percent.
He said he would reduce federal government employment by 10 percent "through attrition, by combining agencies and departments to reduce overhead" but did not specifically cite an agency or department he would pare back. Romney said these efforts would reduce spending by $500 billion a year by the end of 2016.
Gillespie demurred when pressed Monday to detail more government agencies or departments Romney would cut.
"We've talked about job training," he said, also citing the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Romney doesn't typically talk about plans to cut the Housing Department in public; reporters standing on a sidewalk outside a private fundraiser in April overheard him telling donors of a plan to do so.
In the speech, Romney also said he will cut taxes on small businesses. That's often how he characterizes his plan to lower tax rates on everyone by 20 percent — including the small-business owners who often file their taxes as individuals in the highest tax bracket and would benefit from such a cut.
There are questions, though, about how to make those numbers add up. Keeping the other part of his tax promise — making sure rich people pay the same share of the overall tax burden as they do now — means he'll have to find more revenue for the government elsewhere, by closing some loopholes and eliminating tax breaks.
Some of those tax breaks, such as deductions for home mortgages, charitable contributions and health care, are very popular. Romney has refused to say which ones he'd eliminate to make the numbers add up.
Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, demurred when pressed about whether Romney would eliminate or retain the mortgage interest deduction. "I don't want to get into all these things," Ryan said.
Thomas reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Washington contributed to this report.
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