September 15, 2012

Is Romney making unforced errors?

The candidate's messages go in multiple directions as he struggles to connect with female voters.


PAINESVILLE, Ohio - For a campaign that has been so proud of its discipline and focus, Mitt Romney's message on Friday was exceptionally diffuse. In the morning, he was bantering with television personality Kelly Ripa about his guilty pleasures, that he wears "as little as possible" when he sleeps and that he's "kind of a Snooki fan."

Mitt Romney
click image to enlarge

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns in the rain Friday in Painesville, Ohio. “There will not be a second term,” he told the crowd.

The Associated Press


BOSTON - Mitt Romney is promising to reduce taxes on middle-income Americans.

But how does he define "middle-income"? The Republican presidential nominee defined it Friday as income of $200,000 to $250,000 a year and less.

The definition of "middle income" or the "middle class" is politically charged as Romney and President Obama fight to win over working-class voters. Romney would be among the wealthiest presidents, if elected, and Democrats have repeatedly painted him as out of touch with average people.

Obama also has set his definition for "middle class" as families with income of up to $250,000 a year.

Romney's comments came an interview broadcast Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America."

"No one can say my plan is going to raise taxes on middle-income people, because principle number one is (to) keep the burden down on middle-income taxpayers," Romney told host George Stephanopoulos.

"Is $100,000 middle income?" Stephanopoulos asked.

"No, middle income is $200,000 to $250,000 and less," Romney responded.

His campaign later clarified that Romney was referencing household income, not individual income.

The Census Bureau reported this week that the median household income - the midpoint for the nation - is just over $50,000.

Obama wants to extend Bush-era tax cuts for those making less than $250,000, while Romney wants to extend the tax cuts for everyone.

-- The Associated Press

By afternoon, he was standing beneath sheets of pouring rain with his hand over his heart, starting his rally here with a moment of silence for the four Americans killed this week in Libya.

These were the discordant messages the Republican presidential nominee offered Friday, at the end of a trying week in which he struggled both to sound the right tone about the protests sweeping the Middle East and to get a foothold in the battleground states that will decide the November election.

Romney's pre-taped appearance on "Live!," the syndicated daytime television show hosted by Ripa and former New York Giants star Michael Strahan, was part of the candidate's continuing effort to show his softer side to female voters -- a group with whom he is struggling to connect.

On the set in New York, for a show scheduled to air next Tuesday, Romney gushed about Nicole Elizabeth "Snooki" Polizzi, the potty-mouthed star of the MTV series "Jersey Shore." He marveled, "Look how tiny she's gotten. She's lost weight. She's energetic. Just her spark-plug personality is kind of fun."

But coming at a moment of international crisis, as U.S. embassies in the Middle East were beset by anti-American protests, the interview brought shudders from some Republicans who fear the Romney campaign is running aground in its final stretch.

"Deaver is turning over in his grave," said one prominent Republican strategist, referring to Michael Deaver, the late image-maker for Ronald Reagan. The Republican asked for anonymity, because he did not want to go public with his growing despair over the GOP ticket's prospects for winning this fall.

"I can't get my head around this," said John Weaver, a former strategist on Republican John McCain's presidential campaigns. "What is their message? What is going on here? This is not a complicated race against Obama. This is about having a detailed plan to move this economy forward and don't make any unforced errors and be disciplined and focused. They're anything but that."

Romney's campaign defended its decision to do the Ripa interview, with advisers pointing to a number of moves by the Obama campaign on Sept. 11 they said were impolitic on a national day of remembrance: President Obama did a radio interview with a Miami DJ nicknamed "Pimp the Limp" and raised money in Las Vegas, while his top strategist, David Axelrod, and key surrogate, former president Bill Clinton, attacked Romney.

Fresh polling numbers in swing states -- including Ohio, where Obama opened a 7-point lead in Thursday's NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll -- are beginning to sound like distress signals to the Romney campaign.

Still, Romney projected confidence even as his messages went in multiple directions. "There will not be a second term," Romney declared, as rain soaked his outdoor rally in the Ohio town of Painesville. His introductory speakers shared the nominee's optimism. A few called the showers "liquid sunshine," while the pastor delivering a prayer referred to the rain as "tears of joy coming from the heavens."

Although he has sharply criticized Obama's foreign policy all week, Romney did not attack the president's leadership abroad in his remarks here. Nor did he in an interview that aired Friday on ABC News' "Good Morning America."

While he stood by his earlier, confrontational comments on the Obama administration's response to attacks in Egypt and Libya, Romney was conciliatory in his tone. He said his "red line" on Iran was the same as the president's -- contradicting public statements his foreign policy advisers have made this week suggesting that Romney would take action more swiftly than Obama.

(Continued on page 2)

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