- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2012

Mitt Romney has spent much of this year’s campaign attacking President Obama’s economic record and attitude toward small businesses, but many in his party are beginning to warn him that he will have to focus more on his own qualifications to win this fall.

The presumptive GOP presidential nominee largely has followed the playbook of past challengers, framing the 2012 election as a referendum on the sitting president and happily chopping away at Mr. Obama’s policies while avoiding taking a stand on thorny questions himself — such as immigration and women’s pay.

But in recent weeks, as Obama campaign attacks over his time at Bain Capital and questions about his tax records have mounted, Mr. Romney is increasingly facing calls from his own party to tell a better story about himself and his vision for the country.

“He would be best served to do two things: One is beefing up his personal narrative and the other is talking about the future,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “People don’t really care about the blame game. They’ve got it.”

On Wednesday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Mr. Romney should break the negative campaign cycle and go positive by telling voters of his own business success and his gubernatorial record.

“I think there’s a lot of caution,” Mr. Walker said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” adding that he hopes Mr. Romney unveils the new approach in time for the Republican National Convention next month. “I think the mistake that they’ve made is this feeling that it can just be a referendum on the president.”

For much of the campaign, that is how Mr. Romney has been operating.

On Thursday, he continued his attacks on Mr. Obama for remarks the president made this month that businesses often rely on government help to succeed.

The “Built By Us” campaign calls on business owners to join the attack and repudiate Mr. Obama’s remarks.

Coupled with the attacks on Mr. Obama has been a wariness on the part of Mr. Romney to stake out hard-and-fast positions on some questions.

His campaign has declined to say whether he would sign the Paycheck Fairness Act, which Democrats tried to pass through the Senate that would make it easier for women to sue over claims of pay disparity.

He also has refused to say whether he would leave in place Mr. Obama’s June directive to stop deporting most illegal immigrants up to age 30.

Kris Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state and architect of the Arizona immigration law, told The Washington Times that he thinks Mr. Romney’s camp feels the deportation directive is illegal. Mr. Kobach said it could be that Mr. Romney is waiting for a more opportune time to say so publicly.

“When you are in an athletic event and you are winning, you are ahead, you don’t take risk. Only someone who is losing and needs to take a risky strategy to gain ground,” Mr. Kobach said, emphasizing that he doesn’t know the campaign’s strategy. “My guess is that if there is no need to give a very specific position and that can be addressed later if and when he wins the White House, maybe that is the idea.”

He expects that Mr. Romney eventually will have to be more forthright on issues.

“I think it will reach a crescendo and it will probably be during the debates,” he said. “The presidential debates in October will almost certainly force both Gov. Romney and President Obama to make more specific statements on these issues. That could be another reason why President Obama and Gov. Romney may wish to sort of hold fire and save their comments for then, when more people are watching.”

The Romney campaign is grappling with its path moving forward, and some outside strategists said he should highlight his biography more.

Mr. O’Connell said Mr. Romney has a golden opportunity during the London Olympics to remind voters that he turned around the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Games, which had been beset by corruption and cost overruns before he took over as CEO.

While Mr. Romney has the option to go positive, Mr. Obama is likely to continue with negative ads, which are often the best approach for embattled incumbents, said Ken Goldstein, a campaign ad analyst for Kantar Media.

Mr. Goldstein said the Obama campaign is taking the logical approach of painting Mr. Romney as an unacceptable replacement because most voters have entrenched opinions about the president that have been formed over the past four years.

A poll released this week by Pew Research Center echoed that sentiment by finding that 90 percent of voters say they already know all they need to know about Mr. Obama, while just 69 percent say that is the case with Mr. Romney.

“Obama knows there’s not much he can do to change his own numbers and he’s trying to define Mitt Romney,” Mr. Goldstein said. “It’s going to be interesting to see if the Romney campaign changes that up a little bit because they are also going to need to introduce their person.”

Todd Eberly, the coordinator of public policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, said Mr. Romney eventually will have to win over the public and boost his lagging opinion poll numbers, but that he has been right so far to keep the focus on the president’s performance.

He added that Mr. Romney’s fortunes ultimately will come down to how fresh the nation’s struggles are in voters’ minds in November.

“For Romney, he’s looking at Obama’s numbers and looking at the economy, and at this point there’s not really much he has to do,” he said. “He’s got to start defining himself soon, but at the same time he’s got to stay negative toward the president to make sure his negative numbers stay at least where they are.”

A Romney aide declined to say Thursday whether the campaign would switch gears anytime soon, but did say that Mr. Romney would highlight his strengths while continuing to attack the president’s record.

“We are happy to put Gov. Romney’s record of job creation in the private sector, and as governor, up against President Obama’s any day,” the aide said. “We will continue to run an aggressive campaign that contrasts Gov. Romney’s record of success with President Obama’s record of failure.”

Seth McLaughlin contributed to this report.