BOSTON — Republican Mitt Romney, who last week struggled with his responses to a major foreign policy crisis in the Middle East, will turn his focus back to the economy with a new offensive aimed at recharging a campaign that even some allies believe he is losing.
The Obama campaign, also sobered by the violent deaths of U.S. diplomats in Libya, seems willing to join Romney in a debate about the economy instead.
The GOP nominee, in speeches and television advertisements this week, will roll out more details about his plans to help the middle class by creating jobs, cutting the deficit and developing more domestic energy resources, advisers said. The specifics are designed to give voters a clearer sense of what Romney would do as president.
Both candidates were pushed off message in the wake of the Middle East turmoil that roiled the campaign last week. Obama was forced to defend his administration’s handling of the crisis as Romney sharply criticized it. But Romney did not appear to make up any ground politically, and some Republican allies criticized him for too quickly politicizing the moment.
The Republican blowback to Romney’s handling of the Libya crisis follows widespread disappointment in the party that the campaign flubbed his nominating convention in Tampa by not delivering a coherent message or presenting the nominee’s agenda in concrete terms.
One top donor to the Romney campaign said that the convention did not present Republicans as successful and that the messaging at the Democratic convention in Charlotte was much stronger and more effective. Several donors said they did not understand why Romney adopted such an abrasive tone in his acceptance speech, instead of dispassionately making a case for his candidacy.
On Sunday night, the campaign was dealing with more fallout from the convention after Politico published a story describing a campaign operation in disarray, with many accusatory fingers pointed at chief strategist Stuart Stevens, particularly for the perceived failings of the convention speech.
Romney is determined to reshape a congealing narrative that he has fallen behind Obama and will spend the next 21/2 weeks before the first presidential debate articulating more-concrete details of his five-step economic plan, according to campaign advisers.
The strategy shift indicates that the Romney campaign is heeding the advice of senior Republicans, who for weeks have publicly urged the Romney operation to combine its indictments of Obama’s record with a stronger rationale for a Romney presidency.
“I think people are waiting to get a little more information, and the key for us is to make sure that voters know why voting for Romney will result in a change and an improved economy,” Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Romney, said in an interview. “We’re going to keep pounding away on a future-oriented campaign about why the next four years will be better under Mitt Romney than under President Obama.”
The Romney campaign has prepared a series of ads, to air in battleground states, arguing that Romney’s plan would create 12 million jobs. Aides said the ads will highlight his trade policies to crack down on China, his plans to help small businesses grow and his specific plan to cut the spiraling federal deficit.
The national debt will be a key focus early this week. Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), will highlight the debt burden that mothers and grandmothers will pass on to their children and grandchildren — an issue advisers think can help Romney close the gap with Obama among female voters. The campaign also plans to stage a ticking electronic debt clock at campaign rallies, an aide said.
Romney touched on the debt in a podcast released to supporters over the weekend, saying that Obama was “passively allowing us to go over a fiscal cliff.” Romney’s plan calls for capping federal spending at below 20 percent of the economy — cuts he says he would achieve in part by consolidating federal agencies and transferring some government programs to the states.
Obama has argued that Romney’s proposed cuts would devastate the middle class, and aides said the president will engage Romney head-on in that debate this week. Obama kicks off a busy campaign week by returning to the critical battleground of Ohio, with appearances scheduled Monday in Cincinnati and Columbus.
As he has done repeatedly on the trail, Obama will warn of the consequences of Romney’s plans to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and tout his administration’s bailout of the U.S. auto industry three years ago, aides said. They cast Romney as a flailing candidate trying repeatedly to reinvent himself without success.