Amid rumors of discord, Romney seeks to shift strategy

Holly Bailey
The Ticket

LOS ANGELES—Amid rumors of staff infighting and a slide in the polls, Mitt Romney is looking to reset his campaign starting with a speech here Monday before Hispanic voters. He's shaking up his relentless focus on the economy and offering more specifics about a broader range of policies and a clearer argument about why he would be a better president than Barack Obama.

Two senior aides privately dismissed reports of discord over the strategy implemented by Stuart Stevens, the Republican presidential nominee's chief strategist—insisting his job is not in danger and that internal staff grumbling cited in a Politico report published Sunday wasn't as dramatic as described.

But looking to regain control of the message, the campaign offered up Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser, who dismissed the idea that Romney is instituting a major change in strategy, arguing instead that Romney is putting forward "a renewed emphasis" on policies he's previously proposed.

In a conference call with reporters, Gillespie said Romney is simply following the usual trajectory of a presidential campaign by offering more specifics about how he would govern at a time when more Americans are starting to pay closer attention to the campaign.

"It's a natural time in the cycle to do that," Gillespie argued. "We know they know he has a plan. But we also know they want to know more about specifics of that plan."

Starting with the speech before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Romney plans a more aggressive outreach. This includes television ads focusing on his five-point economic plan, including things such as energy independence, a push to create 12 million new jobs and efforts to cut the federal deficit. The candidate will back up that message with a series of speeches outlining more exactly what he would do as president, according to Gillespie.

It's not exactly clear, however, when Romney will deliver the new message. In recent days, he has maintained a schedule of just one public campaign event a day, focusing instead on a busy schedule of fundraising and preparations for the upcoming debates with Obama—a move that has fueled grumbling among Republicans outside the campaign that Romney isn't campaigning hard enough.

Other than the Monday afternoon speech in California, Romney so far has no other publicly announced events this week—though his campaign schedule is likely to change.

On Monday, Romney's campaign released two television ads, including a spot called "The Romney Plan," which features the candidate speaking directly to the camera about how he would turn the economy around.

"My plan is to help the middle class," Romney says in the ad.

The ads come after several polls, including a New York Times/CBS News survey released last week, found that Romney had lost his edge over Obama when it comes to who voters believe would be more likely to turn the economy around and create jobs.

Romney will echo that message in his speech Monday—arguing that Obama didn't deliver on the "hope and change" he promised four years ago.

"In 2008, candidate Obama promised us a world of limitless hope. What we got instead is a world where hope has painful limits—limits that make it harder to start a business, to grow a business, or to find a job," Romney will say, according to his campaign.

But Romney's message could be overshadowed by rumors of internal staff drama—dating at least to the Republican National Convention, where Romney's nomination speech was largely overshadowed by actor Clint Eastwood's unusual appearance and complaints that efforts to build up Romney's biography weren't aired during the convention's prime-time television coverage.

Add to that criticism over Romney's nomination speech for its omission of any mention of Afghanistan. Politico reported Sunday that Stevens and Romney shelved a speech written by two outside advisers—Peter Wehner and Matt Scully, former speechwriters for former President George W. Bush—which put a greater emphasis on foreign policy.

Politico noted that turn of events prompted more griping about Stevens' stewardship of the campaign. (As far back as the primaries, many Republicans suggested Stevens should be fired.) But two senior Romney aides downplayed the story, telling Yahoo News the candidate still has faith in Stevens and that he continues to be one of Romney's closest advisers.

"Stu is not going anywhere," one senior Romney aide, who declined to be named, told Yahoo News.