Romney jumpstarts campaign in battleground states

MIAMI Fri Sep 21, 2012 3:06am IST

1 of 12. U.S. Republican presidential nominee and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign rally in Sarasota, Florida, September 20, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Jim Young

MIAMI (Reuters) - With seven weeks to go before the November election, Mitt Romney is ramping up his efforts in battleground states as he tries to move past one of the most difficult stretches in his Republican presidential campaign.

During a week in which his campaign has faced reports of infighting and a potentially damaging secretly recorded video came to light, Romney has mostly appeared at fundraising events in states that are not in doubt - Democratic-heavy California and the Republican stronghold of Texas.

That will soon change as Romney increases his planned appearances in swing states like Ohio, Virginia and Florida, the second change in a week to a campaign that has been jolted. Romney's team announced an earlier reset in which he promised to spend more time in his speeches talking about the specifics of policy proposals.

Polls show a close race although President Barack Obama's narrow lead has grown slightly as they head into the final lap to the November 6 election.

Republicans say the former governor of Massachusetts has to act quickly to avoid slipping further behind in polls and some have complained that Romney did not appear to be campaigning enough.

"The Romney campaign is being out-hustled and the president's campaign is getting away with this argument that the economy is better off than it was four years ago," said a veteran Republican strategist who has worked on several presidential campaigns.

Under the new push to campaign more, Romney will hold three public events a day, which in most election years is a normal pace in the run up to election day but for him it will be a big increase.

As part of the stepped-up schedule, Romney will participate in a three-day bus tour of Ohio next week with his vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan.

Campaign aides say Romney has had to spend an inordinate amount of time fund-raising to keep dollars flowing.

It would be difficult for Romney to win the White House without victory in Ohio and Florida, and both states represent challenges. The unemployment rate in the Midwestern state of Ohio is better than the national average of 8.1 percent.

As Romney struggled to stabilize his White House bid, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty stepped down from his role as a top supporter of Romney's to become a leading Washington lobbyist for Wall Street banks.

FLORIDA SHOWDOWN

And in retiree-heavy Florida, Romney faces headwinds over a plan championed by his vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan, to change the Medicare health insurance plan for seniors.

A Ryan budget blueprint would save money by changing the way Medicare works. It has given Democrats a line of attack against the Republican ticket.

On Thursday in Sarasota, Romney will seek to reassure seniors that his budget-cutting proposals would not affect their retirement benefits.

Obama will be in Florida as well to give an interview to the Spanish-language television network Univision, just as Romney did on Wednesday.

A new Romney TV ad features Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio.

"We can save Medicare" without changing seniors' plans, he said in the ad. "But only if younger Americans accept that our Medicare will be different than our parents' when we retire in thirty years. But after all they did for us, isn't that the least we can do?"

Romney wants the election to be a referendum on Obama's handling of the weak U.S. economy, but self-inflicted wounds have sidetracked him this week. A video that surfaced on Monday suggested he was writing off Obama supporters as people dependent on government with no sense of personal responsibility.

"My campaign is about the 100 percent in America and I'm concerned about them," Romney told Univision.

"I'm concerned about the fact that over the past four years life has become harder for Americans. More people have fallen into poverty, more people we just learned have had to go onto food stamps," he added.

Some 43 percent of registered voters thought less of Romney after seeing the video, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, while a mostly Republican 26 percent viewed him more favorably. Independent voters were more likely to say the video lowered their opinion of Romney.

(Editing by Alistair Bell and Jackie Frank)