POLITICS

Romney shifts strategy amid GOP hand-wringing

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Politics,Brian Hughes,Politics Digest
Mitt Romney's campaign announced Monday that it is shifting strategies in the presidential race and will in the final 50 days of the campaign offer voters more specifics about what it is Romney would do once he was in the White House.

Facing dissatisfaction among conservatives and disappointing polls, Romney is abruptly dropping his plans to run the race as a referendum on President Obama and his handling of the economy so the Republican nominee can focus more on explaining to voters his own agenda and vision.

Romney aides dismissed talk of disarray inside the campaign and played down his change in strategy so late in the campaign, calling the changes a "natural progression" for the campaign.

Voters "know he has a plan, which is a good thing," said Romney adviser Ed Gillespie. "But we also know [voters] would like to know a little bit more about the specifics, and we're going to meet the demand."

Romney didn't roll out any new proposals or even explain how he would deal with illegal immigration during an appearance before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Monday. Instead, he revisited his previously announced plans for energy, education reform, trade and small-business assistance.

Romney has until now been betting that voters are so fed up with the slow pace of the economic recovery and the stubbornly high unemployment rate that they would be more than ready to give someone else a chance to fix the economy. But Romney saw few gains in the polls following the Republican National Convention while Obama did see a bounce in the polls in several swing states following his convention.

Asked about those recent surveys, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said, "I'm not sure voters understand the difference between the plans that Romney has and Obama has."

As part of the shift in strategy, the Romney campaign also unveiled two new ads Monday that will detail Romney's five-point plan for the economy.

The Obama campaign charged that even while Romney pledges to detail a broader agenda he's offering nothing that Republicans haven't tried before.

"The debut of Mitt Romney's new campaign of specifics was a flop," Obama campaign spokesman Danny Kanner said. "On issue after issue -- from energy to spending, health care, and immigration -- he did not propose a single new idea."

With all the second-guessing about Romney's campaign strategy, the race remains tight. According to the latest Real Clear Politics compilation of polls, Romney trails Obama by just 3 percentage points ahead of next month's three debates.

Still, Republicans concerned that Romney needs to be more aggressive in the campaign while articulating a conservative alternative to Obama wondered whether changes in the campaign announced Monday would be enough.

"It reeks of desperation to me," one top GOP strategist unaffiliated with Romney told The Washington Examiner. "It seems like he's just saying more of the same while his people put a fresh coat of paint on the message. That's not a game changer."

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com