Nervous About Romney Strategy in a 'Gimme Election'

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Believe them or not, post-convention polls such as the one out today from ABC News and the Washington Post show some wind - or maybe more accurately, a slight breeze - at President Obama's back.

The presidential race has gone from "deadlocked" to a slight edge for Obama since Labor Day.

A lot of ups and downs are expected between now and Election Day - with three debates, two jobs reports and more than 50 news cycles still to go - but Republican pundits have begun to fret that Mitt Romney can't continue to capitalize on the stubbornly weak economy.

"If the Republican Party cannot win in this environment, it has to get out of politics and find another business," declared George Will on ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" Sunday.

Will was describing how the 8.1 percent unemployment rate belies the large numbers of Americans who have given up looking for work.

"If the work force participation rate today were what it was in June 2009, when the recovery began, we would have an unemployment rate of 11.2 percent," said Will. "If you add in the involuntarily unemployed, you're approaching 19 percent, which is why I should think, from here on in, on the basis of these numbers, the Romney campaign's slogan should be the title of Paul Krugman's book, which is 'End This Depression Now,' because these are depression-level numbers."

Conservative radio talk show host Laura Ingraham on Monday called 2012 a " gimme election " for Republicans. But she lamented a lack of strong branding in the Romney campaign's message.

"And if you're Mitt Romney, with all of your expertise and all of your knowledge about how the economy works, and you're in this, you have one shot, man. This is going to be the first line of your obituary: You won or you lost. It's all on the line for the country, and it's all on the line for you," Ingraham said.

Other conservatives have joined in, albeit expressing less overt frustration than Will and Ingraham.

" Speak Up, Mitt! " is the title of a piece by William Kristol in a forthcoming issue of the Weekly Standard.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page wrote Monday that "The GOP candidate might try explaining his policies. Just a thought."

The editorial baord was perturbed at Romney's answer to a question on "Meet the Press" about a forthcoming ban on denying health insurance to those who have pre-existing conditions. Romney opposed the ban when Democrats passed it into law, but he seemed to have difficulty explaining why. And he even suggested he'd keep part of Obama's health care law, although he didn't specify how he'd do that.

"Mr. Romney's pre-existing political calculation seems to be that he can win the election without having to explain the economic moment or even his own policies. As this flap shows, such vagueness carries its own political risks," wrote the Journal's editorial board.

Read more About Romney on Pre-existing Conditions

Not all conservatives are quite so edgy, though. The National Review has come out with a calmingly reassuring editorial headline: " Fear Not the Bounce "

But it includes this scathing critique of the Republican's late-summer strategy:

"The Democrats, it seems to us, made better use of their convention than the Republicans made of theirs. The Republican message, especially in the most-watched addresses, seemed less coordinated, deliberate and focused. Republicans spent too much time explaining what a nice guy Romney is and how happy he is about female empowerment, and not enough time explaining how he would improve the national condition."

The conclusion that Romney remains "in the hunt" is not news. A slight Obama lead by no means spells the end of the race. But the conventional wisdom among increasingly alarmed and vocal D.C. conservative thinkers is that team Romney needs to refocus and find a way to draw a starker contrast between him and President Obama, and zero in even more intently on the economy.