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Romney's next test: Sustain the momentum

| Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 11:34 p.m.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a rally at Pier Park on October 5, 2012 in St Petersburg, Fla. Mitt Romney is campaigning in Virginia coal country and in Florida. Getty Images
Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a rally at Pier Park on October 5, 2012 in St Petersburg, Fla. Mitt Romney is campaigning in Virginia coal country and in Florida. Getty Images

Two weeks before the next presidential debate and a month before the election, Republican Mitt Romney's challenge is to sustain his bump in polls, strategists from both political parties say.

He changed the dynamics of the presidential race with his assertive debate performance in Denver.

“It's a new race for the White House,” said Dane Strother, a Washington-based Democrat who has managed many come-from-behind races. “This guy was resurrected from the dead. He had seven bad weeks, bad polling in the battleground states, and the press had written him off.”

Romney appeared to tighten the race with President Obama in Ohio, Virginia and Florida — three critical swing states — according to the latest Rasmussen Reports poll.

The survey of 500 likely voters in each state, with a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points, showed that 49 percent favor Romney in Virginia, compared with 48 percent for Obama; in Florida, Romney had 49 percent to 47 percent for Obama. Obama had 50 percent in Ohio; Romney, 49 percent.

In a Reuters/Ipsos poll, Obama's edge nationally narrowed to 2 percentage points — 46 percent of likely voters, compared with 44 percent for Romney. One in five voters said the president's debate performance made them feel more negative about him, while nearly a third felt more positive about Romney.

“It was the type of performance that will give many voters pause when considering why this guy is down in so many polls,” Joe Trippi, a former strategist for Democrats Walter Mondale and Howard Dean, wrote for Fox News after Wednesday's debate.

Romney, Trippi said, delivered a message with “the fire and confidence that could give voters confidence in his ability to bring about the change many claim to want.”

Obama could rebound because of Friday's Labor Department report that the nation's unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent in September, down from 8.1 percent in July, its lowest level since January 2009.

The GOP should quickly produce a campaign ad touting Romney's rave reviews, “essentially saying when the two candidates stood shoulder to shoulder, the leader emerged,” Strother said.

He and other experts predict Romney's surge will bring about rallies with more excitement, positive narratives in mainstream media and an infusion of campaign cash.

“America loves a comeback story,” Strother said. “He is going to raise a lot of money, so there is a lot of financial momentum, which cannot be underestimated.”

Former GOP presidential candidate and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told the Tribune-Review that Romney needs to continue to talk to voters the way he did during his speech to the Republican National Convention and the first presidential debate. The candidates will debate on foreign policy on Oct. 16.

“This race basically comes done to 10 percent of the voters, who live in six or seven states, who say they are undecided,” Huckabee said. “I mean, how can you be undecided between Obama and Romney? They could not be more different people. This is where Romney can get inside (voters') heads and their hearts with his message of how he will make things better.”

Still, said David Carney, former White House political director for President George H.W. Bush, campaign strategists for Romney know that “demographic advantages for Obama are working against them, so no one is sitting back and spending one minute enjoying this.”

“Historians have said all along that an incumbent president cannot win with unemployment numbers over 8 percent. Well, now it's below 8 percent,” Strother said. “The White House needs to run with that.”

The Obama camp signaled through top strategist David Axelrod that it would adjust its message — to “Romney is a liar” — during the campaign's final weeks.

In Denver a day after the debate, Obama said Romney “may dance around his positions, but if you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth.”

Carney questions whether that message will resonate with voters.

“The White House spent weeks defining Mitt Romney as a cold-hearted venture capitalist who does not care for the middle class, but when voters essentially were introduced to Romney at the debate, they found that wasn't the case,” Carney said. “The Romney viewers saw instead was chatty, witty and effectively demonstrated over and over again his concern for the middle class.”

Carney jokes that he's still in therapy because of Bush's loss as an incumbent to Democrat Bill Clinton in 1992 after a poor debate performance during which the camera caught Bush looking at his watch. He knows how Obama's campaign staff must feel,Carney said.

“No question they are rattled.”

On Monday, Romney is set to deliver a foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, where his campaign said he would offer “a stark contrast” between the candidates because of “his vision for a strong foreign policy.”

Romney's speech is expected to question Obama's handling of the terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, which killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens, and to address the administration's strained relationship with Israel as that nation spars with Iran.

Salena Zito is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. She canbe reached at

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