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Muddled Mitt Romney campaign hangs in but struggles for message

Published: Monday, Sept. 17 2012 4:23 p.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney addresses the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012.   (AP Photo/David McNew) (David McNew, ASSOCIATED PRESS) Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney addresses the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012. (AP Photo/David McNew) (David McNew, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

If the election were held today, Romney would lose, wrote Erick Erickson, the purveyor of right-wing Red State on Monday.

"Team Romney seems so scared of being more unliked than he already is that they refuse to actually pound a consistent, hard-hitting message," Erickson wrote. "Negatives be damned, his message is too muddled for voters to be anything other than confused.

"If you are going to beat the incumbent, you must convince voters you’ll be a steady, consistent hand or they really will go with the status quo knowing at least they can plan around the guy they already know," Erickson added.

No fan of Romney, Erickson is quick to point to Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post, who is a huge Romney fan but has reached the same conclusion.

Rubin characterizes the Romney camp as slow and plodding, letting events define the candidate and his team deliberate away the moment.

"The amazing thing is that with a serious problem conveying the Romney-Ryan message the race is still so tight," Rubin wrote. "That’s a tribute to how desperate the American public is for an alternative and how well Romney and Ryan have done in exposing Obama’s record."

The problem may not be just message. Obama heavily outspent Romney on the airwaves during the two-week convention period.

"Obama spent $20 million on 37,000 ads during the conventions, compared with $3.3 million on 4,500 ads for Romney, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, using data from the nonpartisan Kantar Media/CMAG," Politico reported, which also quoted Romney strategist Stuart Stevens as saying the spending gap was intentional. “The dominant story was going to be the convention,” Stevens said, adding, "We would rather have that $20 million to spend now that it’s not competing with the conventions. You have to be disciplined about these things.”

Intentional or not, the gap likely contributed to the gap in the post-convention bounces, encouraging the narrative that the Democratic Convention was more successful in moving the polls its direction.

Buzzfeed's Mckay Coppins notes a shift in stump rhetoric, with Romney focusing more heavily on social issues and appeals to social conservatives in face to face campaigning.

Coppins quotes unnamed Romney advisers, one of whom noted, "This is going to be a base election, and we need them to come out to vote."

Another Romney adviser described the targets as "the people who are going to talk to their neighbors, drive them to the polls on Election Day, and hold their hands on the way in to vote."

This apparent shift in ground strategy harmonizes with recent poll data that suggests a tight race with a dwindling number of undecideds. Such races are often decided on turnout and enthusiasm in the base, rather than on shifting views at the center.

High Democratic turnout in 2008 produced an overwhelming Obama win, while the reaction against Obamacare brought Republicans out in force in 2010 to take back the House of Representatives.

Base turnout lies at the heart of polling accuracy, and many have questioned the consistent tilt toward Democratic respondents in current polls.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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