October will be the make-or-break month for Mitt Romney. The Republican nominee is staking his campaign on the theory that a dramatic late sprint will enable him to overtake President Obama and win the 2012 race for the White House. It's now time for him to accelerate, in paid TV advertising, campaign appearances, and debates, and he is going all out.
Romney took a big step toward his goal Wednesday night by turning in an aggressive, savvy, and confident performance in his first debate with Obama, who seemed strangely passive and lackluster. Romney was widely credited with winning the encounter.
[PHOTOS: The 2012 Presidential Campaign Trail]
There will be two more presidential debates later this month and a vice presidential showdown next week between Obama running mate Joe Biden and Romney running mate Paul Ryan, a GOP congressman from Wisconsin.
Carrying out his long-term plan, Romney is now beginning a huge surge in TV ads in 10 battleground states, including Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Virginia, where the election will be decided. Some of the ads will use video clips of Romney during the first debate, such as his repeated argument that he wants to protect the middle class and his aggressive questioning of Obama, coupled with images of the president looking disdainful, disengaged, or defensive, Romney advisers say.
Another part of the ad campaign will have Romney relating stories of how everyday people tell him how much economic pain they are in and how much they are worried about being unemployed. His theme is that the country can't afford another four years of Obama, and that Romney has better solutions to America's problems.
Romney and Obama have taken widely different approaches in devising their strategies. Obama has been flooding the battleground states with TV ads for many weeks in an attempt to frame the issues to the president's best advantage. Just as important, Obama and his allies have been trying to define Romney as an insensitive plutocrat who doesn't understand Middle America and who wants to promote the interests of the rich and big corporations.
Meanwhile, Romney has saved much of his campaign treasury for the final sprint, when he thinks most Americans, especially swing voters, will be truly paying attention.
Some conservatives have complained that the Republican nominee has waited too long to present a more positive image and to counter Obama's ad blitz, but others argue that there is still time for Romney, a former businessman and ex-governor of Massachusetts, to succeed.
"I honestly believe there's enough anxiety out there that people are willing to listen to Romney and his prescriptions on the economy, and this can make it a competitive race," says Frank Donatelli, head of the GOPAC conservative political action committee and former White House political director for President Ronald Reagan.
In another month, it will become clear whose strategy worked.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter.