- The Washington Times - Monday, September 17, 2012

LOS ANGELES — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will recalibrate his message over the final weeks of the race, his campaign said Monday, putting a “new emphasis” on the “specific aspects” of his policy prescriptions for strengthening the nation’s economy and foreign policy abroad.

Ed Gillespie, former Republican National Committee chairman, said polls show voters want detailed proposals from both Mr. Romney and President Obama — and now is the time to start supplying them.

“We are not rolling out new policy so much as we are making sure people understand that when we say we can do these things, here is how we are going to get them done and here are the specifics,” Mr. Gillespie said, arguing that some voters are just starting to gauge where the candidates stand on the issues.

The first taste of the rebooted message came in the form of two new television advertisements and in an address Mr. Romney delivered to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce conference at a hotel conference center here, where he pledged to expand school choice for low-income children and special-needs students and to sign new trade agreements with Latin American countries.

Ticking off his five-point plan “to help the middle-class,” Mr. Romney vowed to remove the barriers blocking the nation from tapping into its oil, coal and natural gas supplies, and become energy independent by 2020. He also pledged to confront China over its “unfair trade practices,” to cut the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition and get the country on the path toward a balanced federal budget by cutting funding for Amtrak, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities.

“In fact, my test is this — is the program so critical that it is worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?” he said.

Turning to immigration, he said he will open the door for illegal immigrants who serve in the U.S. military to become a “legal permanent resident,” and institute a national E-Verify law that would give businesses a way to determine whether the people they hire are here legally.

Mr. Romney, though, refused to spell out at the conference or an interview with Telemundo what he planned to do with Mr. Obama’s directive halting deportations for some illegal immigrants.

In the Telemundo interview, he dodged five separate questions related to what he would do with the more than 82,000 young undocumented people — known as “Dreamers” — who have already filed applications under Mr. Obama’s order.

“I’m gonna get my legislation done. And my legislation will overtake anything done on a temporary basis,” Mr. Romney said.

Mr. Gillespie’s conference call with reporters followed a report in Politico about internal grumbling in the Romney campaign over the purported failings of Stuart Stevens, Mr. Romney’s chief strategist. Mr. Stevens, according to the report, has become a scapegoat for people upset over the way the GOP convention came off — particularly Mr. Romney’s failure to mention Afghanistan in his acceptance speech as well as the appearance of Hollywood actor Clint Eastwood, who took the focus off the Republican nominee with his empty-chair routine.

“In a convention where Clint Eastwood’s debacle of a performance was the takeaway for most Americans, at least according to the polls, no one can say with a straight face that what happened down in Tampa was a successful convention,” said Jim Manley, a Democratic consultant. “The fact is, they were in a need of a boost coming out of the thing and they didn’t get it.”

The latest Real Clear Politics average of national polls shows that 50 days out from Election Day, President Obama has a 3-point edge.

Despite national unemployment still hovering at about 8 percent, the Democrat also is leading in key battleground states, including Ohio, Florida and Virginia — raising questions about whether the Romney camp needs to rejigger its approach.

“Of course, time will only tell, but the Gillespie conference call likely indicates the biggest shift in campaign strategy for Team Romney since it selected Paul Ryan as Romney’s vice presidential running mate,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist. “Put another way, the Romney campaign knows it is losing and with 50 days to go, it knows it must change its strategy if they are going to win in November.”

With that as a backdrop, Mr. Gillespie shrugged off the idea that the convention fell short of expectations, saying it allowed voters to get to know Mr. Romney the person, and now it is time for voters to get a better picture of policy.

“This push reflects our view that after a successful convention, where people learned and voters learned a lot about Mitt Romney as a person, they are eager to hear more details about policies to turn our economy around and create 12 million new jobs in his first term,” Mr. Gillespie said.

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

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