Romney Can Look to the Past to Get Through Campaign Rough Patch

Past campaigns provide a pathway out of rough patch for GOP nominee Mitt Romney, experts say.

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Now that the dark clouds have begun forming over GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign just 48 days ahead of the election, political experts say there are historically proven keys to making a comeback from all the campaigns they've been through that he should be taking note of.

Political obituaries have been premature before--they struck Bill Clinton during his primary, as well as his wife in hers. Same with John McCain in 2008 and Rick Santorum this primary cycle. George H.W. Bush was written off both during his primary and the general election in 1988 before successfully winning the White House.

"The [Romney] campaign is a little bit like a car that hasn't been able to stay between the white lines. They've veered off into the ditch a little bit," says Ford O'Connell, a Republican political strategist who worked on the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008. "But there is still time."

[Read: Romney dismisses voters who pay no income tax.]

O'Connell says that for both McCain and Hillary Clinton in 2008, who appeared to be losers heading into the New Hampshire primary, surprise successes were fueled by striking the right themes with voters after a bit of struggling.

Clinton and McCain "did one thing in common--they found the right narrative, they owned it, and then they didn't take the foot off the gas," he says. "What really has to be troubling for the Romney campaign is that they haven't found a message to break through to the battleground state voters, particularly in Ohio and Virginia. That is their biggest problem."

Following the two party conventions, President Barack Obama opened up a slight lead in the generally static presidential race, but that bounce has dissipated recently. Most battleground polls show Obama with a narrow lead over Romney, but results remain within the margin of error. However, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey released Wednesday shows Obama up 50 percent to Romney's 45 percent.

[Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.]

Boris Epshteyn, a Republican political strategist based in New York City, says Romney is on the right track by sticking by the recently made public comments he made during a May campaign event regarding taxpayers versus the 47 percent of people not paying federal income tax.

"The Romney campaign is doing the right thing and not walking back from the general sentiment expressed in the video because there's an upside to it," Epshteyn says. "He comes off as energetic and resolute, and already you have Rush Limbaugh, who has been critical of Mitt Romney in the past, saying, 'Hhey, keep going. Use it.' Plus, a lot of Americans agree with that sentiment and a lot of them are disappointed with President Obama."

In a Gallup poll released Wednesday, 36 percent of voters said Romney's surreptitiously recorded remarks make them less likely to vote for him, versus 20 percent who said they are now more likely to vote for him. About 43 percent said they are indifferent.

[Read Romney makes pitch for Latino voters.]

Dante Scala, political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, says Republican thought leaders, such as William Kristol at the Weekly Standard and Peggy Noonan at the Wall Street Journal, are criticizing their standard-bearer because they've never been comfortable with his nomination.

"It does reflect the ongoing, strained, I would say anxious relationship between conservative elites and Mitt Romney," he says. "You've seen that happen again and again over the past year. By picking [Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan] for vice president, he was able to put that off for a couple weeks, but now they are barking at him again."

And though Scala says Romney could benefit from a more "human" moment, such as when Hillary Clinton welled up at a New Hampshire diner surrounded by a group of women just before coming from behind to win that primary in 2008, it will take more to win the general election.

"One factor to keep in mind about Romney repeating such success is that those were both primaries and those are inherently more volatile because voters can't use party identity to choose who to vote for," Scala says. "Whereas for Romney, I can't imagine what sort of human moment would convert a significant number of Democrats."

Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at rmetzler@usnews.com or follow her on Twitter.

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