Romney enters critical phase, will talk up economic plan
BURLINGTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney plans to talk up some specifics of his economic proposals as he enters a critical period of his campaign and tries to erase a small lead that President Barack Obama has built in the polls.
Romney's challenge is to keep it close until the campaign goes into its conclusive phase next month, when he and Obama met on October 3 for the first of three presidential debates that will dominate the final weeks leading up to the November 6 election.
In a race defined by the weakness of the U.S. economy, Romney needs to convince voters that they can trust him as the Obama campaign tries to raise doubts about the economic proposals he has offered, such as what government programs would he cut and how he would pay for a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut.
To that end, Romney advisers say the former Massachusetts governor plans this week to talk up the specifics of each of the five central points of his economic message: beefing up energy production and trade, improving education, cutting government spending and helping small businesses by, among other things, reducing regulations.
"We are, starting Monday, going to hammer on each aspect of the Romney plan for a stronger middle class," a senior Romney adviser said.
On Monday and Tuesday, Romney will talk about the United States' burdensome $16 trillion debt, Obama's role in making it bigger and ways to reduce it, a senior campaign aide said.
Romney has been pressing the five themes as part of his stump speech but has been under pressure from some conservatives to provide more specifics about his economic plans rather than simply campaign on the struggling economy and blame Obama for 8.1 percent unemployment.
The Romney senior adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Romney's plans this week were not in reaction to the criticism.
Instead, it is more a response to voters' desire for both sides to talk in more detail about their plans. The adviser noted that Obama has faced questions as well about what he would do in a second term.
A raft of new surveys of American voters showed Obama got a measurable bounce of support from the Democratic National Convention earlier this month after being locked in a neck-and-neck battle with Romney for months.
The latest Gallup survey published on Sunday, however, showed Obama's lead narrowing slightly, with 48 percent for the president to 45 percent for Romney.
Romney aides feel the race remains as close as ever and that Obama's convention bounce will evaporate.
"We feel very good," said the adviser. "We just have to continue building our ground game."
Romney's biggest test yet may come in the first debate, to be held in Denver. It will focus on domestic policy.
Romney engaged in a debate preparation session at a hotel on Sunday, the latest in a series of meetings aimed at studying up on how best to deal with Obama during the debates.
A senior Romney aide said the campaign sees the debates as a big opportunity for Romney's message to be heard by large numbers of voters.
"He's doing great," said the man who is playing the role of Obama in debate preparation, Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman.
"Say nothing more, say nothing more," a chuckling Romney told reporters as they pressed Portman for more details on the Romney campaign plane on Friday.
Romney was headed to Los Angeles to speak to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Monday in his latest attempt to connect with a Latino community that is distrustful of him due to the hard line he took on immigration during this year's Republican primaries.
Last week the campaign was dominated by foreign policy after four Americans were killed at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and Muslim anger at a film denigrating the Prophet Mohammad led to anti-American protests throughout much of the Middle East.
Romney's initial response to the bloodshed, criticizing the U.S. Embassy in Cairo for a statement he said was essentially an apology to the protesters, backfired on him and he spent days on the defensive, distracting attention away from his strict focus on the economy.
(Editing by Alistair Bell and Eric Beech)
Protesters respond to calls to defend their demonstration from possible police intervention. Slideshow