CINCINNATI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A space of only five minutes revealed a lot about the aggressive new phase an increasingly confident Mitt Romney is entering.
In a poke at President Barack Obama, the Republican challenger timed a speech in Ohio on the economy to begin just minutes before his Democratic rival gave a major address on the same topic in the same battleground state.
The timing of Romney’s speech was a sign of a new, more robust chapter in his campaign for the November 6 election as he climbs in the polls and catches up in fundraising.
Speaking in Cincinnati, the former Massachusetts governor accused Obama of empty words.
“Action speaks very loud. And if you want to see the results of his economic policy, look around Ohio, look around the country and you’ll see that a lot of people are hurting,” Romney said.
Romney has risen in national polls and in swing states that will decide the election by mostly sticking to script. In recent weeks, he has given campaign speeches in industrial settings mostly about the economy. He has largely steered clear of the national press corps that follows him, preferring to grant interviews to local TV and radio stations in states he visits.
But that is changing. He leaves on Friday on a five-day, six-state bus tour for events that will have the feel of a general election campaign.
Breaking from his habit of playing it safe with his media appearances, he will appear on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday and is likely to speak to other television networks he has avoided in recent weeks.
His new media strategy carries some risks, because he will likely be forced to go beyond his well-worn economic talking points.
That raises the possibility of Romney being forced to defend what Obama charged on Thursday was an economic plan that would lead to $5 trillion more in tax cuts and the gutting of some government programs to pay for it.
It also increases the risk of Romney making the kind of verbal misstep that has sometimes dogged his campaign, such as his ill-timed line in New Hampshire that “I like being able to fire people,” or his disclosure in hard-hit Michigan that his wife, Ann, “drives two Cadillacs, actually.”
“Every candidate misspeaks or says something they wish they could take back or wish they had said more artfully. Things happen. That goes in cycles, and right now, Romney is having a pretty good run of things,” said Republican strategist Dave Carney, who was a political adviser to Texas Governor Rick Perry’s presidential campaign.
Aides are aware of the potential for Romney to be diverted from his main message that he is better placed than Obama to end chronic high unemployment.
“I think staying on message is his only challenge,” said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “When you get questions about things that aren’t part of your central message, you don’t take the bait. You try not to make mistakes. You think through carefully the things you want to say and rehearse what you want to say.”
Looking confident and more relaxed than his wooden image would suggest, Romney accused Obama in Cincinnati of failing to create jobs.
The Beach Boys’ classic “Good Vibrations” played four times at the Cincinnati rally before Romney spoke.
The Romney campaign is intent on making the election a referendum on Obama’s handling of the economy and dismisses his attempts to blame President George W. Bush for the deep fiscal hole he found on entering the White House in January 2009.
“This isn’t about campaigns or about campaign tactics. It’s about the record of the president, and the reality of the people who are living it. And people know what their lives are like,” said senior Romney adviser Stuart Stevens.
Romney’s reasons for optimism include outpacing Obama in fundraising in May, bringing in nearly $77 million to the Democrats’ $60 million, and a gaffe by the president a week ago in which he said the “private sector is doing fine,” when clearly it is not.
That fed directly into Romney’s attempt to define Obama as out of touch with everyday American concerns and himself as a credible alternative, with a relentless focus on the sputtering U.S. economy and its 8.2 percent jobless rate.
“There’s some shot that I might get elected president. There’s more than a good shot,” Romney told farm business leaders last week in western Iowa.
At a fundraiser on Thursday evening in Obama’s hometown of Chicago, Romney tied U.S. economic health to basic liberty.
“Our economy is propelled by freedom,” Romney said. “(Obama) believes a government can do a better job guiding lives and guiding the economy than can free people.”
According to his Illinois finance chair, Romney added at least $3.3 million to his campaign war chest from the event.
Additional reporting by Eric Johnson; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney