Mitt Romney is looking for traction in a race that’s seeing the ground shift beneath his feet.
The normal difficulties of finding the campaign’s “reset” button are complicated by more than a series of losing news cycles, verbal gaffes, and party infighting.
Six weeks before Election Day — and just 10 days before the first presidential debate — Romney finds himself confronting a daunting battleground landscape. Polling averages in the eight states ABC News considers toss-ups for the fall show President Obama ahead in all of them, with the Obama advantage largest in the virtual must-wins of Ohio and Virginia.
Even the economy, long the rationale for Romney’s candidacy, is slipping away as a natural area of advantage for the challenger. A series of recent polls in battleground states show Obama with a narrow edge on trust on the economy, numbers that have inched along with perceptions of the country moving toward a positive direction.
The big national trends still suggest a strong environment for the challenger. Unemployment remains north of 8 percent, while national tracking polls continue to put the race inside a few percentage points.
On one very big question — whether voters view the nation as on the right track, or the wrong track — pollsters are still finding the wrong track dominating by more than 20 points on average, even accounting for the recent trend toward the right track.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said today said he felt good about last week, despite the fact that Romney’s comment about 47 percent of the country viewing themselves as “victims” who are “dependent” on the federal government consumed much of the news coverage.
“I think that we had a good week last week, I think in retrospect, in that we were able to frame up the debate last week in the sense of, what future do we want,” Priebus said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
That sentiment isn’t shared anywhere close to universally, even inside the Republican Party. Romney officials realize it’s on them — and particularly on their candidate — to break through with the crisp case for his election that’s been lacking to date.
The situation puts more pressure on Romney to deliver in the presidential debates, particularly the first encounter Oct. 3 in Denver. His campaign needs to create major moments to change the trajectory of the race, and no opportunity is as ready-made for that as much as the first debate. Romney can make his case on the economy face-to-face with the president.
Romney has more recent practice, having come off a primary campaign where he engaged with his opponents some 19 times in televised debates. Obama’s last debates, of course, came four years ago.
Romney entered the primary debates as the favorite, and could stand back while his opponents unloaded on each other. He won’t have that luxury this time around — but that should be a welcome feeling, as time for him to turn the campaign around is evaporating.