ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:
In a letter released by his campaign on Friday, Mitt Romney’s doctor gave him more than just a clean bill of health. His personal physician called the Republican presidential candidate a “vigorous man” with “reserves of strength, energy and stamina that provide him with the ability to meet unexpected demands.”
And it’s a good thing because the last two weeks have brought more than a few of those “unexpected demands” — from a foreign policy crisis that spilled over onto the campaign trail to a hidden camera video that landed Romney in hot water to the release of his tax returns on Friday.
Even the disclosure of his 2011 tax documents, has become the subject of blunt attacks by Democrats. President Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, said in a statement that the taxes confirm “what we already knew — that people like Mitt Romney pay a lower tax rate than many middle class families because of a set of complex loopholes and tax shelters only available to those at the top.”
A new web video released on Saturday by the Obama campaign accuses Romney of stashing away his money in “foreign tax havens” and of “betting against the dollar” by investing in foreign currency. The video also criticizes Romney for releasing only two full years of tax returns even though other presidential candidates have made many more public.
“Why won’t Mitt Romney match other presidential candidates, including his father?” the video’s narrator says. “Why won’t he come clean with the American people? What else is he hiding?”
But the timing of Friday’s document release was no accident. Romney had long pledged to make his 2011 taxes public before the middle of October, but he and his campaign were unwilling to wait that long. That’s because, with a mere 45 days until the Nov. 6 election, Romney and his advisers are finally ready for the re-set that they have so desperately been seeking.
The Republican National Convention was supposed to offer Romney a chance to re-introduce himself to the electorate. But the GOP’s confab in Tampa was forced to compete for headlines with a hurricane that slammed into the Gulf Coast as well as the Democratic National Convention that took place just a few days later.
On Monday, the campaign held a “state of the race” conference call with reporters to announce another kind of re-tooling — a new focus on talking to the American people about the specifics of Romney’s economic plan.
“It’s natural kind of time in the cycle to do that,” one of the campaign’s top advisers, Ed Gillespie, said, adding: “There are a lot of Americans out there who are just now really starting to lock in and starting to look for more information and new information, and now is the time for us to provide that for them.”
But not long after Gillespie outlined the campaign’s new direction, the release of a series of hidden camera videos from a Romney fundraiser in May, forced an abrupt detour. Those videos, released by the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine, sent the campaign into damage control mode.
Friday’s release of Romney’s 2011 taxes capped off what many political observers in both parties agree has been the GOP candidate’s roughest patch of the general election. And as if to signal their readiness to move on, the campaign circulated statements from elected officials, including Sen. John McCain advising everyone to do just that.
“Mitt Romney has now released more than 1,200 pages of tax returns, giving voters an incredibly detailed look at his finances,” McCain said in a statement. “Now that the most recent tax return has been released, it’s time to get back to discussing the issues that voters care about.”
Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are hoping to turn the page in a big way next week when both candidates descend on the crucial battleground state of Ohio for what is being billed as a three-day “Romney Plan for a Stronger Middle Class” bus tour. Ryan is set to campaign in Lima and Cincinnati while Romney will travel to Dayton, Columbus, Cleveland and Toledo.
But Romney and Ryan are plunging headfirst into Ohio just as polls show President Obama with a consistent lead in the crucial swing state — one of just eight that is likely to decide the 2012 election. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Marist poll out earlier this month put Obama’s edge in Ohio at 7 percentage points over his Republican challenger and a RealClearPolitics.com average of recent polls pegs the president’s lead over Romney at roughly 4 points there.
The GOP ticket’s focus on the state next week reflects its importance on the political map. Without winning there Romney faces a much narrower path to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
And it’s not just Ohio where the early fall polls are spelling trouble for Republicans. A separate NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Marist poll released this week found Obama ahead of Romney by five percentage points among likely voters in Colorado, 50 percent to 45 percent, and by eight percentage points in Iowa, 50 percent to 42 percent. And a series of CBS News-New York Times-Quinnipiac University polls out last week also gave Obama the edge in Wisconsin and Colorado as well as another closely-watched battleground — Virginia.
But earlier this week, Gillespie, the Romney adviser who also served in George W. Bush’s White House, said the campaign was still “very optimistic.” One reason: The Republicans are keeping President Obama and his allies on their toes in Wisconsin.
This weekend, President Obama is making his first trip to the Badger State since February, a sure sign of the state’s “tossup” status. The competitiveness of the state this election season is even more remarkable considering that a Republican presidential candidate has not won the state since 1984 and that four years ago then-candidate Obama beat McCain by a solid 56 percent to 42 percent margin there.
Currently, Obama has the support of 50 percent of likely Wisconsin voters compared to 45 percent who are backing Romney, according to a recent NBC News-Wall Street Journal-Marist poll.
“President Obama has a narrow lead in a state he handily carried last time,” Lee M. Miringoff, director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion said this week. The pollster noted, “slightly greater enthusiasm of Romney backers over Obama supporters, but it’s not enough to tip the scales in Romney’s direction.”
And as the clock ticks down to Nov. 6, there is little time to spare: Voters are already voting in many parts of the country. After this weekend nearly half of all states will have begun some form of early or absentee voting. The first of three presidential debate — held in hotly-contested Colorado where Romney will campaign on Sunday — is just 11 days away and Election Day is only about six weeks off.