- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 30, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. — Carrying a post-convention glow from his coronation as the Republican Party’s standard-bearer, Mitt Romney now turns to the final leg of the campaign — the more than two-month sprint that will determine whether his six-year quest to become commander in chief comes to fruition.

The strategy going forward?

The former Massachusetts governor plans to take a page out of Ronald Reagan’s playbook from the 1980 presidential campaign by urging voters to ask themselves: “Are you better off than you were four years ago?”

“That question can’t be answered in the affirmative by many voters,” senior Romney adviser Kevin Madden told The Washington Times in an interview Thursday.

With polls showing Mr. Romney and President Obama running neck and neck nationwide as well as in key battleground states, the challenge facing both camps over the next 60-plus days will be to win over as many of the 8 percent to 12 percent of the electorate — Mr. Madden’s estimate — who have yet to throw their support behind either of the respective candidates.

Mr. Romney signaled in his acceptance speech Thursday night that he aims to take the luster off Mr. Obama, saying that every president seeking re-election since the Great Depression — with the exception of Mr. Obama and Jimmy Carter, who Mr. Reagan defeated — have been able to assure voters: “You are better off today than you were four years ago.”

“This president can ask us to be patient. This president can tell us it was someone else’s fault. This president can tell us that the next four years he’ll get it right. But this president cannot tell us that YOU are better off today than when he took office,” Mr. Romney said, sparking applause from the crowd.

Democrats will have a chance to counter the attacks when they converge in Charlotte, N.C., next week for their party’s convention, where they will tap Mr. Obama again as their nominee and try to inject some more energy into his re-election bid.

Both candidates hope the conventions will give them a bounce in the polls and help draw in some of the remaining undecideds.

Whatever the case, Mr. Madden is confident that his boss and running mate Paul Ryan have a more attractive message for fence-sitters than Mr. Obama, who, Republican strategists say, represents the “status quo” and has embraced tax and regulatory policies that have bogged down the nation’s recovery, punished small business and put the federal government on its fourth straight year of $1 trillion annual deficits.

“I think one of the most powerful arguments we have is talking directly to the people right now who are struggling in the economy. We are arguing to them, ‘President Obama believes that government regulations and government involvement is how we are going to build this economy, and we are saying, ‘Let’s work with you in order to streamline regulations and give you more power to grow jobs, hire more people, thrive and prosper.

“Gov. Romney and Congressman Ryan represent a new way forward,” he said.

That message also will include the same line of attack that Mr. Romney has employed on the stump, where he has slammed Mr. Obama’s “You didn’t build that” comment on small-business creation as evidence of the Democrat’s big-government mindset, accused Mr. Obama of taking $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for his national health care plan and warned that the president wants to gut the work requirement at the heart of the mid-1990s welfare reform law.

Mr. Romney plans to return to the campaign trail Friday, and his itinerary speaks volumes about the places on the map where many think the race for the White House will be won or lost.

Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan have planned a “farewell victory rally” in nearby Lakeland, Fla., which sits between Tampa and Orlando along the all important Interstate 4 corridor — a barometer for how the powerful Sunshine State electorate will vote in the November election.

From there, Mr. Romney heads for Virginia, then Ohio, and back to Florida — a trio of states that Mr. Obama carried in 2008 and George W. Bush carried in 2000 and 2004 on their way to victory.

This year, the states represent nearly a quarter of the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the White House, and a Real Clear Politics average of polls shows Mr. Romney is running neck and neck with Mr. Obama in each of them.

Mr. Madden also said the campaign will focus on Colorado, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin.

• Seth McLaughlin can be reached at smclaughlin@washingtontimes.com.

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