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Last updated: November 3, 2012 2:30 am
In rally after rally in swing states across the nation, Mitt Romney’s closing argument for the presidency now always includes a mention of single mothers who “scrimp and save” and fathers who work two jobs so that their kids can wear new clothes to school.
It is a message that more closely reflects the view of America with its real-life hardships of the moderate who once served as governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts, not the more outwardly conservative Republican candidate who emerged from the party’s primaries in the age of the Tea Party.
The question now is whether the Republican’s message – that Americans simply cannot afford another four years of Mr Obama and that he is better equipped to revive the economy – will persuade enough voters in the relatively few states that will determine the election and drive record turnout among Republicans they will need to overtake the Democratic president.
At a raucous rally Friday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – a state that has become ground zero in partisan warfare in the US over the past two years – Mr Romney’s sense of urgency reached a new high as he portrayed Mr Obama as a dismal leader.
“How is it that he has fallen so short of what he promised? In part, it is because he has never led, never worked across the aisle, never truly understood how jobs are created in the economy,” Mr Romney said, adding that he did not see business as a “necessary evil”.
The crowd erupted in applause whenever Mr Romney vowed to be bipartisan and find “good Democrats and good Republicans” to push his agenda – another relatively new addition to his campaign message.
In a speech that included new emphasis on his own experience working with a Democratic legislature, he also vowed – for the first time – not to “spend my effort trying to pass partisan legislation unrelated to economic growth”.
“From day one, I will go to work to help Americans get back to work,” he said. But Democrats would argue that such a vow clashes with his promise to repeal Mr Obama’s healthcare reform, which they would staunchly oppose.
Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul behind Fox News, suggested late on Friday that the fate of the election could rest in the hands of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a staunch critic of Barack Obama who this week embraced the president’s leadership in the wake of the storm that ravaged his state.
Mr Murdoch said in a tweet: “Christie, while thanking O, must re-declare for Romney, or take blame for next four dire years.”
This reflected concern that has emerged in conservative circles that the show of bipartisanship, in which Mr Obama and Mr Christie declared admiration for one another’s response to the natural disaster, may have bolstered the president’s image with just days to go before the election.
Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-show host, called Mr Christie a “Greek column” for the president, a reference to the dramatic stage backdrop when Mr Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. Mr Murdoch has previously been a strong supporter of Mr Christie but has occasionally been critical of Mr Romney’s campaign.
Mr Romney will touchdown in Trenton, New Jersey, on Sunday but there has been no indication that he will meet with Mr Christie as he travels to a campaign stop in neighbouring Pennsylvania.
Mr Romney’s campaign argues that it has the upper hand heading into these last days because of disappointment in Mr Obama’s term and an “enthusiasm gap” that favours Republicans and, they say, will emerge as their surprise weapon on election day.
While some national polls show Mr Romney leading in a tight race, those taken in the swing states that will determine the outcome of the election show a slightly more favourable picture for the president.
Charlie Cook, the independent political analyst, argues that this predicament was born out of a decision last summer by Mr Romney to focus the early part of his campaign entirely on the economy instead of defining himself in a “personal and positive” way.
At the same time, Mr Obama’s campaign decided to expend enormous capital on advertisements that painted Mr Romney as a heartless private equity executive. It is those ads about his tenure at Bain Capital, as well as stories of lost jobs and shuttered factories at the hand of the firm, that Mr Cook says may – or may not – have sealed Mr Romney’s electoral fate.
The persistent problem for Mr Romney – and one that he could well overcome – is that he has been forced to fight his presidential campaign on two fronts over the past few weeks: pushing back against an aggressive Mr Obama and trying not to get tripped up by the most conservative elements of his own party and the positions he once endorsed.
Mr Romney has been forced repeatedly to walk a tight line between keeping conservatives happy and attracting more moderate voters.
That has been evident in his response to comments about rape and abortion by Republican Senate candidates that fall outside the US mainstream. It has been clear in his days-long silence in the face of criticism in the wake of Hurricane Sandy of his suggestion during the primaries to shift federal emergency services to states and private companies.
It also has manifested itself in the way his running mate, Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who is a star among conservatives, has been relatively quiet about what once was his main calling card: his controversial budget proposal to cut government spending and revamp Medicare, the government healthcare programme for the elderly.
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