Romney hits flat notes on national stage
The last few weeks have been ugly for Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney.
A flat Republican convention, a fumbled response to unrest in the Middle East, reports of discord within his campaign and a secretly taped video of Mr Romney deriding 47 per cent of US voters have left his team reeling - and has many Republicans fearing doom in the November 6th election.
Moreover, Democratic president Barack Obama has opened a slight lead over Mr Romney in national polls, and new surveys indicate that Mr Obama has a significant edge where it matters most: in Ohio, Virginia and Florida, the most coveted of nine politically divided "swing" states that are crucial to cobbling together the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House.
So, seven weeks before the election, is it already over for Mr Romney?
Not yet. Despite the serial gaffes and the many questions about his campaign, Mr Romney remains within striking range of the president.
The former Massachusetts governor still has time to change the trajectory of the race - even though he has not shown an ability to do so for the past several months, as he has cast Mr Obama as a failure in overseeing a struggling economy.
There are three presidential debates in October, and Mr Romney - who during the past month lightened his campaign schedule in favour of debate practices - clearly is pointing toward the showdowns with Mr Obama as a chance to show Americans he is a better bet to turn things around.
Mr Obama remains vulnerable thanks to a stubbornly high 8.1 per cent unemployment rate, tepid economic growth and big majorities of voters who believe the United States is on the wrong track.
"Mr Romney just came out of one of the worst months in presidential politics in recent memory, and he's hanging right in there," Republican strategist Rich Galen said. "If I was one of Mr Obama's guys in Chicago, I'd be thinking: 'What does it take to get rid of this guy?' He won't go away."
Mr Romney still faces huge challenges. Surveys indicate most Americans see Mr Obama as relating to their concerns better than Mr Romney , a former private equity executive with an estimated fortune of up to $250 million (€192 million).
A Republican convention dedicated to humanising Mr Romney appeared to have no lasting impact on voters. The video of Mr Romney denigrating Mr Obama's supporters as not paying income taxes and living off government handouts reinforced Democrats' message that the candidate is an out-of-touch rich guy.
To have any hope of beating Mr Obama, Mr Romney must project a warmer image, analysts say. Mr Romney appeared to be trying to do that late on Wednesday in Florida, where he softened his tone on Mr Obama's healthcare overhaul and on illegal immigration, and told Univision that "this is a campaign about the 100 per cent".
The comments came as his campaign opened a new assault on Mr Obama that aimed to cast the president as wanting to redistribute wealth from rich Americans to the less fortunate.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll this week found more than 40 per cent of voters viewed Mr Romney less favorably after seeing the "47 per cent" video. A USA Today/Gallup poll found the video made almost one-third of independents less likely to vote for him.
As his campaign has struggled, there has been no shortage of advice from prominent Republicans, many of whom have urged him to be tougher on Mr Obama and more specific on his plans.
In a Wall Street Journal column on Thursday, Republican strategist Karl Rove wrote that "Mr Romney has had a bad week but he can recover - if he tells voters more clearly what he would do as president."
However, Mr Obama also leads in eight of the nine most competitive toss-up states, giving him more options as he tries to piece together 270 electoral votes. Mr Obama could survive a loss in Ohio or Florida - or even both - but losses in either state would be crippling to Mr Romney .
"The lead Mr Obama has in these critical states is far from insurmountable. They are in single digits," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College poll. "If the national dialogue were to shift two or three points, those battleground states would get close in a hurry."
The leader in the presidential race in mid-September typically holds on to win. But recent contests also have shown the race can shift dramatically in the last two months.
On September 20th, 2004, the Real Clear Politics average of national polls gave President George W. Bush an average 5.7- percentage-point lead over Democrat John Kerry. He eventually beat Kerry by only 1.5 points.
The Mr Romney campaign has cited the 1980 race as a model, when Republican Ronald Reagan trailed Democratic President Jimmy Carter for much of the autumn in the Gallup poll but blew open the race late after a strong performance in their only debate.
But recent polls show no signs of improvement for Mr Romney on some key indicators.