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Battered Romney has tough week

21:13 Fri Sep 21 2012
US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has had a tough week (Getty)
US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has had a tough week (Getty)

After perhaps the worst week of his White House campaign, Mitt Romney's team is taking the long view, insisting the Republican candidate will be able to bounce back by November 6.

As polls showed President Barack Obama ahead in key battleground states and panicked conservatives rained criticism on Romney, the candidate held at least five fundraisers over as many days beginning last Friday without a single public event.

Just seven weeks away from election day, it was an extraordinary gap, and veteran campaign reporters said they could not remember the last time a presidential candidate stayed off the trail for so long in the final stretch.

Romney aides dismissed the pause as the normal ebb and flow of politicking, insisting their strategy was geared towards November.

"The race is very close," senior adviser Kevin Madden told AFP as thousands of supporters gathered under a blistering Florida sun for a Romney rally on Thursday.

"This is not an election that's going to be won or decided here in September. Ultimately it's going to be decided in November, and that's where we put our focus - all the way until election day."

Observers, including several Republicans, say the party's nominee put himself behind the eight ball when a secretly filmed video surfaced showing him branding "47 per cent" of Americans as government-dependent freeloaders.

The remarks emerged as Romney was already in damage-control mode over a statement accusing Obama of sympathising with Islamist protesters that was released just hours after the killing of four Americans in Libya.

Romney's remarks in the video, shot at a May fundraiser and published by Mother Jones magazine earlier this week, kicked up the worst firestorm of his campaign - and yet the candidate is not shying away from the message, but doubling down on it.

Romney aides told AFP they are confident that "video-gate" will blow over in a couple of news cycles.

Some say Romney has little to lose from running as a recovery-not-dependency candidate and spelling out a stark contrast between himself and Obama.

"I don't know if it's so much a shift," an aide who is close to Romney said. "He's been talking about these things for a long time."

One senior campaign official said there has been "no nervousness" within Romney's inner circle despite a report last Sunday that detailed extensive disarray, and Tim Pawlenty's announcement on Thursday that he his stepping down as campaign co-chair to lobby for the banking industry in Washington.

"Look, we've had at least two mini-controversies a month," said one senior campaign official.

The strategy, he said, is to move past them and "focus like a laser on the economy", which is Romney's bread and butter.

Romney plans to focus on battleground states, any of which could decide the election. Chief among them are Florida and Ohio, must-wins for Romney where Obama currently leads.

Romney spent Wednesday and Thursday in Florida, and he and running mate Paul Ryan plan to launch a three-day bus tour through Ohio beginning on Monday.

Romney has meanwhile spent several hours a day over recent weekends practising for the three debates with Obama in October, which will provide the last best chance to re-introduce the Republican to the American public.

He will go into the contests having debated some 20 times during this year's primaries against feisty Republican rivals for the party nomination, while Obama has not had to take part in a debate since 2008.

But sharpening the message and selling it to voters in person are key in US politics, and some Republicans fear Romney is doing both poorly.

"I think there is a broad and growing feeling now, among Republicans, that this thing is slipping out of Romney's hands," wrote Peggy Noonan, the former speechwriter to iconic conservative president Ronald Reagan and now a columnist for the right-leaning Wall Street Journal.

That was earlier this week. On Friday she dialled the criticism up a notch, branding the campaign a "rolling calamity", echoing the criticism of other conservatives.

The campaign has not so much circled the wagons as plodded on, largely ignoring the punditry.

"They'll do what they do," the close adviser said.

After the Sarasota rally, as Romney walked across the tarmac to his plane, a reporter asked whether he would be campaigning a bit harder now.

"We're in the stretch, aren't we?" is all Romney would say.

But 66-year-old retiree Walter, who attended Romney's rally here, sounded a warning to the would-be president.

He thought Romney should make a play for Ohio, even though he believed Obama was likely to carry it.

"You don't want to write off any state," Shepherd said. "You don't want to really write off 47 per cent of the population either."