- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2012

Some state Republican Party leaders and influential conservatives say they are worried that the early stages of Mitt Romney’s campaign have been marked by missteps and missed opportunities in the bid to unseat President Obama in November.

Several point to the failure of the Romney campaign’s top advisers this year to exploit Republican gains in the key electoral state of Pennsylvania by pushing through a change in the formula for how such votes are awarded. Pennsylvania holds 20 electoral votes.

Instead, Romney aides apparently settled on a strategy of placing all their chips on three swing states — Virginia, Ohio and Florida — closely aligning the campaign staff with the Republican National Committee operation in each state into a single planning-and-spending unit. Virginia, with 13 electoral votes, Ohio, with 18, and Florida, with 29, are seen as critical to the Republican’s hopes in what polls suggest will be a tightly fought race.

“When you add up all the seven or eight states that are competitive and likely to go to Romney and those likely to go to Obama, the three left up for grabs are Virginia, Ohio and Florida,” said Virginia GOP Chairman Pat Mullins. “To win, Romney or Obama will have to carry two of these three states. That’s my conclusion and the general consensus I gathered from traveling around.”

But the strategy carries risks and could leave the Romney campaign with no margin for error.

“Independents are a little to the right of center, and Romney hasn’t closed [the] deal with them yet,” Ohio GOP Chairman Bob Bennett said.

In each state, that could go either way. The Romney forces have melded the tactical and spending decision-making with the national GOP and the party machinery in each state.

“We have merged the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party of Florida and the Romney campaign into one to defeat Obama and the Democrats,” said Florida GOP Chairman Lenny Curry.

Romney strategists have concluded that Mr. Obama can lose Florida and still win re-election, which could make a game-changer of Pennsylvania’s Electoral College delegates. After the party’s big gains in the 2010 midterm elections, some Republicans in the state legislature considered adopting a system in which at least a portion of the state’s electoral votes would go to the candidate who wins the majority in each congressional district.

Like 47 other states, Pennsylvania gives all of its Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who wins a majority or plurality of the popular vote statewide. Democrats have won the Pennsylvania’s presidential vote in the past five elections.

The Washington Times has learned that the Romney campaign decided not to ask Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, and the GOP majorities in the Senate and House to adopt the new method. The Romney campaign told state Republicans that it did not want to open itself up to Democratic claims that it was trying to rig the election, even though Nebraska and Maine also divide Electoral College votes by congressional district.

Mr. Corbett and GOP lawmakers were skittish after Obama forces privately threatened to open the campaign cash faucets in a push to defeat half of the state’s Republican lawmakers if they agreed to change the voting system.

A trio of swing states

Of the approximately dozen likely swing states this year, Mr. Romney’s strategists and the super PACs supporting him are pouring their financial resources into television advertising in Ohio, Virginia and Florida as the three most important prizes Mr. Romney must win on Nov. 6.

“General Motors, Proctor & Gamble, etc. can’t buy prime-time TV time in Ohio markets through October — Romney and Republican super PACs and Obama and his super PACs have reserved all that time,” said a longtime presidential campaign strategist close to the Romney team.

As for TV advertising, Florida’s Mr. Curry says it appears about even between the Obama and Romney forces, but anecdotal evidence shows Democrats with a slight edge.

Other instances of perceived self-inflicted wounds from the Romney team causing concern in party circles are the lingering controversy over Mr. Romney’s tax records and the campaign’s confused and contradictory response to the Supreme Court decision last month that upheld the central provision of Mr. Obama’s health care law as a tax.

Mr. Curry said the one and only way “to win this election is by communicating with the electorate what our deeply held beliefs are — what our vision for America’s future is.”

A number of well-placed Republicans have privately expressed doubts about how convincingly Mr. Romney can convey his vision of a 59-point plan to revive the economy. Some of his stalwarts privately wonder whether his stump performances aren’t betraying a bit of the stiffness and inauthenticity for which fellow Republicans publicly criticized him during the primaries.

But the election remains months away, and some GOP operatives note that since Mr. Romney triumphed decisively in the Republican primaries over a string of better-spoken nomination rivals, he must have been doing something right.

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