President Obama and Mitt Romney are in a dead heat as they enter the home stretch of the 2012 presidential race. The two candidates are furiously crisscrossing the country to make their final pitches to voters in battleground states, with the president finishing up a sleepless 38-hour tour to nine states and Romney hitting up three towns in the crucial swing state of Ohio. The debates are over, and, barring an earth-shattering event, the outcome of the race will likely be determined by the work the two campaigns accomplish over the next two weeks. Here, six things Romney needs to do in the final days of the race:
1. Win the closing argument on the economy
The main thrust of Romney's campaign is that Obama has failed to lift the economy, and that the former private equity manager has the expertise to turn it around. It is Romney's most potent argument, and polls show that most voters believe Romney would do a better job than the president on economic issues. With Obama seeking to clarify his economic message, the last thing Romney wants to see is Obama gaining ground on pocketbook issues. The GOP candidate is scheduled to deliver a major address on the economy on Friday, a speech that his campaign hopes will seal the deal.
2. Stick with Moderate Mitt
Romney's late surge in the polls coincided with his abrupt transformation into a moderate on issues ranging from financial regulation to Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program. While he remains committed to turning Medicare into a voucher system and lowering tax rates for the wealthy, Romney has undergone an optical metamorphosis that is attractive to independent voters. "Romney knows that, by substantial margins, the country favors raising taxes on the rich and opposes slashing many government programs, including Medicare and Social Security," says E.J. Dionne at The Washington Post. Convincing voters that he is a centrist is crucial for the GOP challenger, as is beating back charges that he's an oily opportunist or a severe conservative at heart.
3. Distance himself from controversial Republicans
In the same vein, Romney has to divorce himself from extreme members of his own party. In what almost seems like a calculated campaign to sabotage Romney's candidacy, Donald Trump this week offered $5 million to a charity if Obama released his birth and college records, a reminder of the virulent strain of birtherism that runs through the GOP. In addition, Romney's campaign is dealing with the blowback from a controversy surrounding Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who said that when a woman becomes pregnant from rape "that's something God intended." Romney has not withdrawn his endorsement for Mourdock, and the Obama campaign is frantically trying to tie the two in the minds of women voters.
4. Become the candidate of change
Romney has recently begun telling voters that they face a distinct choice in this election: The status quo or a "big change." With the economy lurching along at a sluggish pace, and Congress stuck in gridlock, it could be a message that resonates with the electorate. It's also "an attempt at role reversal," say Colleen McCain Nelson and Laura Meckler at The Wall Street Journal, "as the Republican presidential nominee tries to own the message that [Obama] used effectively in 2008 to persuade voters that he could move the country beyond its partisan stalemate." Hey, it worked for Obama.
5. Act like a frontrunner
While Obama at times appears to be playing the role of underdog, Romney clearly relishes portraying himself as the frontrunner in the race. "Cultivating the image that he is a winner, his aides say, could be Mr. Romney's best strategy for actually winning," say Jeff Zeleny and Ashley Parker at The New York Times. At campaign rallies Romney has described the Obama campaign as "sinking," while touting his own inevitable march into the Oval Office, a tactic that seems to jazz up the Republican base. One of the biggest applause lines at his rallies is when he begins sentences with: "If I'm elected — no, when I'm elected...."
6. Chip away at Obama's lead in Ohio
Even the most confident Romney supporter has to quail a little in the face of cold, hard math. Obama is holding on to a slim but consistent lead in Ohio, whose 18 electoral votes could help him reach the winning threshold of 270. There are scenarios in which Romney can win without Ohio, but the odds are daunting: Political observers say he would have to run up victories in swing states that are toss-ups, as well as one or two that are currently leaning toward Obama. Expect to see a lot of Romney in the Buckeye State in the coming days.