Romney retools strategy, dismisses report of disarray

WASHINGTON Mon Sep 17, 2012 6:49pm EDT

U.S. Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney steps off his campaign plane in Kansas City, Missouri, September 16, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Young

U.S. Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney steps off his campaign plane in Kansas City, Missouri, September 16, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - After a difficult week that sparked a burst of Republican hand-wringing, Mitt Romney's campaign team fought back on Monday against a report of disarray in his inner circle and promised to retool his message with more specifics of his policies.

Senior adviser Ed Gillespie struck an optimistic tone despite the Republican worries, saying President Barack Obama's post-Democratic convention bounce in polls had faded and the race for the White House had tightened again ahead of the November 6 election.

Romney dismissed a Politico report that portrayed a chaotic and sometimes confused Romney campaign team led by chief strategist Stuart Stevens.

"I've got a terrific campaign," Romney said in an interview with the Spanish-language television network Telemundo, adding that there would be no changes to his top staff.

"My senior campaign people work extraordinarily well together," he said. "These process stories really take away from what's really of concern to the American people."

The report raised fresh questions about Romney's management of a gaffe-plagued campaign that has missed opportunities to take advantage of a struggling economic recovery and lingering high unemployment.

The questions are particularly pertinent for Romney, the former head of a private equity firm who has made his managerial and economic experience the centerpiece of his campaign to boot Obama from the White House.

But Romney could face more problems after a video surfaced on Monday from a closed-door fundraiser where he describes 47 percent of Americans - those certain they will back Obama - as "dependent on government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them."

Romney goes on to say "my job is not to worry about those people." The video was shot earlier this year and posted online by the liberal magazine Mother Jones. Romney's remarks drew a sharp condemnation from the Obama campaign and is certain to raise new questions about the Republican's views and ability to stay on-message.

"It's hard to serve as president for all Americans when you've disdainfully written off half the nation," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina.

Most polls have shown Obama taking a solid lead in the race against Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, but Gillespie focused on Monday on a Rasmussen tracking poll showing Romney moving back into a slight lead.

'POST-CONVENTION BOUNCE FADES'

"The post-convention bounce has faded already and is fading for the president," Gillespie told reporters. "If you look at polling for Romney swing states around the country we're looking at a dead heat virtually everywhere in the target states."

A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Monday showed Obama with a 5-point lead among likely voters over Romney, 48 percent to 43 percent, down slightly from a 7-point advantage last week. Obama led Romney on the key issue of who has better plans for the economy.

Gillespie said Romney would begin to be more specific about his policies, although he denied it was in direct response to conservative criticism last week that he had not directly engaged Obama in a battle over specific ideas.

"We do think the timing is right at this point to reinforce more specifics about the Romney plan for a strong middle class," Gillespie said, describing the shift as a "natural progression" as voters pay more attention to the race.

"They're eager to hear more details about policies to turn our economy around and create 12 million jobs in his first term," he said.

Romney unveiled three new advertisements and planned a series of speeches highlighting a five-point economic policy to create jobs, cut taxes, bolster small businesses and achieve energy independence.

The shift came after a tough week that saw Romney come under fire from conservatives to be more specific in his policy proposals, and stumble with a quick response to the crisis in the Middle East that critics in both parties said smelled of political opportunism.

The conservative calls for Romney to be more specific peaked after he struggled during a television interview last week to explain what tax loopholes he might close to help offset the cost of his tax cuts, or whether he would keep portions of Obama's healthcare overhaul.

At a campaign appearance in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Monday, Obama ridiculed Romney for his lack of specifics.

"They want your vote but they don't want to tell you their plans," he said of Republicans.

Romney has had trouble winning over the Republican Party's most ardent conservatives, who distrust him because of his moderate stances as Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2007, when he backed a state healthcare overhaul that became a model for Obama's national plan.

But many of the party's political professionals in Washington and elsewhere also wonder why Romney is not doing better against Obama given the 8.1 percent unemployment rate.

"People are concerned. They figured that he would use the convention to explain what a Romney administration would look like. But he didn't do it," said a top Republican congressional aide.

The Politico story portrayed a dysfunctional Romney team that produced multiple versions of his convention acceptance speech right up until the time it was delivered, then failed to mention Afghanistan or U.S. troops.

Saul Anuzis, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party, said Romney's supporters should be patient given that there are seven weeks and three presidential debates - and one vice presidential debate - remaining in the campaign.

"The campaign is adjusting to the political realities by adjusting its message," he said. "It's easy to second-guess from the sidelines, but they have been one of the more disciplined campaigns I have seen as far as messaging and organization."

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Thomas Ferraro and Alina Seliyukh; Editing by Alistair Bell and Christopher Wilson)

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