The limping Mitt Romney campaign was yesterday on notice from some of its own that it had better pick itself up quickly after a string of flubs and stumbles if it wants to avoid losing a presidential contest that by all normal indicators - such as the rotten economy - it should be on its way to winning.
Trying to do just that, Romney HQ launched an effort to turn around the disaster of the past two days - the leaked video of their candidate disparaging Americans who depend on government benefits (almost half the nation) - by painting Barack Obama as coddler-in-chief and first defender of redistribution of wealth by government.
"The question of this campaign is not who cares about the poor and the middle class. I do. He [Obama] does. The question is who can help the poor and the middle class. I can. He can't," Romney told donors at an Atlanta fundraiser.
Romney added that the country "does not work by a government saying, become dependent on government, become dependent upon redistribution. That will kill the American entrepreneurship that's lifted our economy over the years."
But quelling the rumbles of disgruntlement in the Republican ranks may not be easy.
"It's time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one," Peggy Noonan, the conservative columnist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote bluntly. "It's not big, it's not brave, it's not thoughtfully tackling great issues. It's always been too small for the moment." She went on: "An intervention is in order: Mitt, this isn't working."
The causes of the dismay are varied. They include second-guessing the Romney campaign for putting too few public rallies on his schedule and too many private fundraising events. Worse is the astonishment at the secret video released this week by Mother Jones magazine.
Mark McKinnon, a campaign strategist for John McCain in 2008, wrote on the Daily Beast website that it "reveals a deeply cynical man, who sees the country as completely divided, as two completely different sets of people, and who would likely govern in a way that would only further divide us."
Party insiders are banking on the three debates as almost the last opportunities for Romney to distinguish himself from the incumbent and win wavering voters. The Republicans distributed a video seeking to besmirch Obama for defending redistribution of wealth. The video includes an audio recording from 1998 when he says: "I actually believe in some redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody's got a shot."
- Independent, AP
The AP-GfK poll
Support among all adults:
* Barack Obama 52 per cent
* Mitt Romney 37 per cent
Support among likely voters:
* Obama 47 per cent
* Romney 46 per cent