With the endgame of the presidential contest approaching fast, Republican candidate Mitt Romney is staking his campaign on the economy and his relentless argument that President Obama has failed to improve it.
This was the strategy described to U.S. News editors and writers during several hours of interviews with top Romney advisers Thursday at his Boston headquarters.
"Our view is that this is a very simple election," a senior Romney strategist told us. "It's a referendum on Obama's handling of the economy."
This strategy amounts to a major risk. If the economy improves markedly between now and Election Day, Obama's chances for re-election will greatly improve, the aides admit. If the economy stays weak or worsens, Obama's chances will fade.
Obama's speech Thursday in Cleveland was "another attempt on his part to pivot back to jobs," said the Romney strategist, but Obama's problem is that he has been focusing too much attention on other issues, such as health care legislation. The view of Team Romney is that Obama should have emphasized job creation all along, and now Obama's claim to be addressing the unemployment issue comes across as empty rhetoric.
On Thursday, Obama portrayed the election as a choice between his brand of government activism to help the middle class versus Romney's willingness to adopt the policies the unpopular President George W. Bush that resulted in a deep recession.
Obama said a Republican victory this November would result in a return to the "theory that the best way to grow the economy is from the top down" and would damage the middle class.
For his part, Romney told a crowd in Cincinnati, "I think he's made it harder for the American enterprise system to work" because the administration over-taxes and over-regulates.
Another top Romney strategist said one reason Romney has clinched the GOP presidential nomination and is running about even with Obama in the opinion polls is that he has been extremely disciplined in focusing on the economy and jobs. Gradually, Americans are coming to understand that Romney will be a big improvement over Obama, the aide said, adding: "He likes fixing stuff....Everything he's done in his life has been successful."
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.