Is it us, or is it him?
Are Republicans rightfully jittery about their presidential candidate and his campaign so far? Or is that candidate poised to make a major move down the stretch, having wisely saved his best punches for last?
Republicans are indeed jittery. They see their presumptive nominee, Mitt Romney, running up a big fundraising advantage and finally getting the party leadership to coalesce around his campaign. They see polls that show not a single state that went for Sen. John McCain in 2008 is likely to flip for President Barack Obama, but several states that went for Obama in 2008 might well flip to Romney in 2012.
Moreover, they see Obama failing to move the needle on all the issues voters claim to care about—jobs, the economy, corruption. They see the groups that lifted Obama to victory in 2008—young people, Hispanics, even African-Americans—significantly less enthused and less likely to vote this time around. What they don't see is Romney carpe-ing the diem. And they sense—rightfully, in my view—the time is now.
Romney may be raising more money, but Obama's campaign is spending it—on ads that paint Romney as unconcerned about the problems of regular folks, i.e., non-college-educated white people. The Obama campaign knows it won't win those voters, so it seeks to dampen their enthusiasm for Romney.
And it's working. Head-to-head polls, even in battleground states, haven't budged in months. They have Obama ahead—almost always within the margin of error—but ahead nonetheless.
Romney's people say they expected this. They knew they'd be outspent during June and July. They knew the president would have center stage while they ramped up for a national campaign and caught up on funding. They knew the negative attacks would come now, while undecided voters were forming their view of the candidates. And they knew there would be time to respond.
That time is now. Romney can't be "not Obama" anymore. His campaign can't get bogged down trying to educate voters about the nuances of tax reform and macroeconomic policy. These are no match for "Account in Cayman Islands" for capturing voters' attention.
It's time to change the narrative. Ditching the 59-point, 160-page economic plan for a five-point plan is a key first step. Talking in cogent, specific terms about a brighter future—as opposed to the grim present and recent past—is another.
This weekend, the "new" Romney campaign will be on display in four "must win" battleground states—Virginia, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina. If you see Romney connecting with voters, if you see them applauding his economic plan, nodding in agreement as he describes his "Day One" plans to rescind Obamacare and reduce regulation, then expect a corresponding rise in the polls. If it's more of the same—more blaming Obama, more about tax returns and Harry Reid and offshore tax havens—you will see voter opinions start to cement. And they won't be hardening in the challenger's favor.