* Romney's strategy could cost him election, some say
* Conservatives challenge him to detail his ideas
* Republican concerns grow as Obama takes lead in polls
By John Whitesides
WASHINGTON, Sept 12 For months, Republican Mitt
Romney's presidential campaign has been built on broad themes:
cut taxes, repeal and replace Democratic President Barack
Obama's healthcare overhaul, increase defense spending.
But when it comes to specifics - namely, how to pay for the
tax cuts and extra spending, and what exactly a Romney
healthcare plan would look like - Romney has been reluctant to
give details, essentially gambling that Americans' frustration
with high unemployment rates and a struggling economy will be
enough to propel him to the White House.
Now, with polls showing that Obama has taken a slight lead
in the race after the Republican and Democratic national
conventions, increasingly anxious conservatives are calling on
Romney to spell out more of his plans - even if it risks
alienating some undecided voters.
The calls for a change in strategy have become particularly
loud since Sunday, when Romney struggled during an interview on
NBC's "Meet the Press" program to explain what income tax
loopholes he might close to help offset the cost of his tax
cuts, or whether he would keep portions of Obama's healthcare
overhaul, including a requirement of insurance coverage for
those with pre-existing medical conditions.
"Mr. Romney's pre-existing political calculation seems to be
that he can win the election without having to explain the
economic moment or even his own policies," said an editorial
published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, which often is a
barometer of the thinking of leading conservatives.
"Such vagueness carries its own political risks," the
Journal editorial said.
It isn't the first time that conservatives in his party have
raised doubts about Romney's campaign strategy, but with the
Nov. 6 election less than two months away, the calls for the
former Massachusetts governor to be bolder and more explicit
have become increasingly urgent.
William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard,
said that Romney could be setting a course to lose the election
despite the factors working in the Republican's favor - such as
the nation's 8.1 percent unemployment rate.
"When a challenger merely appeals to disappointment with the
incumbent and tries to reassure voters he's not too bad an
alternative," Kristol wrote, "that isn't generally a formula for
Romney's advisers say they are sticking with their strategy
and not panicking. A Romney adviser from outside the campaign
said there was nothing to be gained by putting out a specific
plan on issues such as his tax-cut proposal because it would
have to be negotiated with Congress.
"When he's president, it might call for him to put out a
more specific plan to negotiate with them. But there's no reason
for him to put out a detailed tax reform plan now," the adviser
said. "It'll just allow the Obama campaign to shoot at it and
not put out a plan themselves."
Romney has long had trouble winning over many of the
Republican Party's most ardent conservatives, a problem that was
evident during a long and bruising primary campaign.
He is distrusted by some conservatives largely because of
moderate stances he took as governor of liberal Massachusetts
from 2003 to 2007, when he backed a state healthcare overhaul
that was a model for Obama's nationwide plan.
Obama's post-convention "bounce" - which put the Democrat
ahead in what had been an even race - may be short-lived. But it
has ignited a wave of Republican hand-wringing about Romney's
campaign team and his failure to flesh out his conservative
positions more boldly.
Romney's campaign is "too intent on winning over the small
batch of uncommitted and independent voters by saying absolutely
nothing that might possibly offend them," John Podhoretz, a
conservative columnist and former presidential speech writer for
Ronald Reagan, wrote in the New York Post.
"The problem with that strategy is a) it means he doesn't
say much, and b) it does nothing to stimulate the enthusiasm of
those already in his corner," Podhoretz said.
'SHUT DOWN THE PARTY'
Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham said Monday that if
Romney's campaign fails to capitalize politically on the
nation's sluggish economy, the implications for the Republican
Party should be lasting.
"If you can't beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut
down the party," she said. "Shut it down. Start new, with new
people. This is a 'gimme' election, or at least it should be."
As dire as such analyses make it seem for Romney, the
presidential race remains close. An online Reuters/Ipsos poll on
Tuesday showed Obama with a 3 percentage point edge on Romney,
46 percent to 43 percent. The two candidates were tied on who
would do the best job handling the economy.
The criticism Romney is facing from within his party is
similar to the concerns some Democrats expressed about Obama's
campaign in early September 2008, after Republican John McCain
charged out of his convention on a wave of momentum and, with
vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, seized a slight lead in
At the time, Obama tried to reassure supporters and retooled
his message to take a more aggressive approach. Shortly
afterward, the worst financial crisis since the 1930s hit the
United States, boosting Obama's calls for change after the
eight-year tenure of Republican President George W. Bush. The
Democrat cruised to a relatively easy 7-point victory over
Romney, a former private equity executive whose vast
holdings in offshore accounts has led Democrats to accuse him of
dodging taxes and call for him to release more than the two
years of tax returns he has made public, has echoed that
argument in refusing to release more returns.
He has said that doing so would merely give Obama's allies
more targets for criticism. Romney's stance has, however, added
to criticism of his campaign's tactical decisions.
"It is becoming clear that if President Obama is re-elected,
it will be despite the economy and because of his campaign,"
Charlie Cook, founder of the non-partisan Cook Report, wrote in
the National Journal. "If Mitt Romney wins, it will be because
of the economy and despite his campaign."
Cook said Romney's campaign has been to slow to counter
efforts by Obama's team to portray Romney as a wealthy
businessman who is out of touch with middle-class Americans.
The Romney campaign's decision "to defer any biographical
ads until August - ads that would have sought to define Romney
on a personal level beyond being just rich, as someone worthy of
trust, and as someone whom swing voters might be comfortable
having in the White House - is inexplicable," Cook said.