Things haven’t been going Mitt Romney’s way since roughly the moment that Clint Eastwood dressed down that empty chair.
It isn’t simply that the stunt distracted from an otherwise solid Republican National Convention, overshadowing a big introductory moment for the Romney campaign.
It’s that Romney has struggled to fill the leadership chair himself, despite several high-profile opportunities handed to him by national and international events.
Yes, President Obama got a convention bump. Yes, the fact that this race has a frontrunner for the first time basically since it began can change just as quickly in the other direction.
But a static campaign is suddenly on the move. That movement is throwing Romney off his main campaign message; a candidate who has long calculated that the only issue that matters is the economy is chasing headlines, with varying degrees of success.
The questionable timing of Romney’s response to anti-American unrest in the Middle East — violence that would include the death of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya — constituted a missed opportunity for the Republican nominee.
The campaign seems conflicted at times on what other opportunities to pursue in taking on Obama. Recent Romney messaging has focused on welfare policy, the administration’s stance toward China, and even mentions of “God” on U.S. currency, to mention just a sampling.
The loss of focus has a growing number of conservatives concerned that Romney isn’t taking advantage of an enormously vulnerable president. The staggering economy, the explosion of debt, unpopular domestic achievements, and new challenges overseas all leave Obama in a tenuous place when it comes to his reelection prospects, or should.
Romney’s laser-like focus on the economy was supposed to take advantage of all that. But just seven weeks before the election, that strategy doesn’t seem to be working.
Adding to the urgency is the fact that leading in the polls in September matters this year more than ever. The first battleground-state votes of 2012 will be cast in Iowa just a week from Thursday, and voting begins in all-important Ohio Oct. 2 — the day before the first presidential debate.
Meanwhile, Romney has barely picked up his campaign pace. The cancellation of a Colorado event today — in deference to a plane crash that occurred at the airport the campaign plane was scheduled to land at — means the GOP nominee had no public events this weekend.
Obama also had a quiet weekend, but he has four public rallies this week, including two Monday in critical Ohio. Romney so far has no public events on his schedule for the week, though the campaign has typically been adding such events only a day or two in advance.
When Romney does campaign, he’s fighting his own image at times. “Saturday Night Live” made the point in the opening skit of the program’s season premiere last night, with the Obama character referring to Romney as his “secret weapon.”
“There’s your choice America,” the Obama character says, “stick with what is barely working, or take your chances with that.”
That wouldn’t be quite how the Obama campaign frames what they hope is the choice for this fall. But it may end up being enough, and it will be on Romney to campaign in a way that recasts that equation in the coming weeks.