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Romney: What he must to do to close the gap

The debates may be Mitt Romney's “last, best shot” at turning around his own campaign.

Mitt Romney is running for president as the “ultimate turnaround expert”—a guy who “can walk in, figure out what’s wrong, and fix it,” said John Dickerson in Slate.com. The Republican may still get a chance to fix the struggling U.S. economy—“but first he must show he can do it with his campaign.” As the race for the White House enters its final month, Romney’s campaign is bleeding, hurt by a lack of a clear, compelling message, and by a string of self-inflicted wounds, including the videotape showing him writing off “47 percent” of Americans. He’s trailing President Obama by nearly 4 points in an average of national polls, and by alarmingly wide margins in battleground states such as Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, and even must-win Florida. For Mitt, the real danger now is the gathering narrative that he’s already lost the race, said Ezra Klein in WashingtonPost.com. The “nightmare scenario” is that the Republican National Committee and pro-GOP Super PACs decide to give up on him, and focus their money and resources on House and Senate races so as to blunt the impact of a second Obama term. “If things don’t start looking better for Mitt Romney soon,” in other words, “they’re going to get a lot worse for him, and very quickly.”

Romney’s “last, best shot” at saving his campaign is next week’s debate and the two that follow, said Jules Witcover in The Baltimore Sun. Those are his big chances to stop playing defense, go on offense, and convince undecided voters he really is a better bet than Obama for getting the economy going again. If his performance on 60 Minutes this week is any indication, said Jonathan Capehart in WashingtonPost.com, Romney just might pull that off. The usually stiff and cautious Romney “was a vision of unblinking confidence,” and his responses to tough questions sounded both sincere and reasonable. If this is the candidate who shows up to debate Obama on Wednesday, “we could be just a week away from stories declaring a reset for Romney.”

He’ll need more than a confident manner, said the Financial Times in an editorial. Romney has to make voters believe he really is Mr. Fix-It, and tell “a credible story about how he would lead the U.S. into a strong recovery.” Up to now, Romney has been maddeningly vague about his economic and tax proposals. His only hope is to “work out what he wants to say on the economy and then keep saying it.” It’s still a “winnable race” for Romney, said Ramesh Ponnuru in NationalReview.com. But what’s really hurting him is the perception that he’s an out-of-touch plutocrat whose policies would help the rich but do nothing for the struggling middle class. In the debates and on the campaign trail, Romney needs to “emphasize again and again how his agenda would help the vast majority of Americans.”

Mark my words—this race will tighten up very soon, said Robert Wright in TheAtlantic.com. In the debates, Romney “has a good chance of outshining Obama,” who is not “a deft off-the-cuff speaker,” and has proved in the past to be a wordy, mediocre debater. And believe it or not, the media will soon help Romney get back in the race. “If there’s one thing the media won’t tolerate for long, it’s an unchanging media narrative.” Today’s story—that Romney is in big trouble—will yield to a fresh story: Romney’s coming back! Stay tuned, America: We’ve got ourselves a close election after all!

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