WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney, his campaign to become U.S. president in disarray, is attempting to get back on solid footing amid reports of bitter infighting at his Boston headquarters as Barack Obama edges past his Republican rival nationally and in several critical swing states.
The Republican campaign released a pair of new ads on Monday, one an attack against the president — suddenly the front-runner in a race that's long been neck and neck — and another that focuses on the Romney's proposals to boost the middle class.
The positive ad provides some details about how Romney will keep his oft-stated promise to create 12 million jobs via increased trade, deficit reduction, tax reform and help for small businesses. That's despite reports from independent economic forecasters who predict the U.S. economy is on track to create that many jobs anyway by 2016, with or without Romney's help.
In a conference call with reporters, Ed Gillespie, a Romney campaign aide, said the Republican presidential ticket plans to zero in on the specifics of their policy proposals with less than two months until the presidential election.
No new policies are to be unveiled, he added.
Voters "are eager to hear more details about policies to turn our economy around," Gillespie said. "We're not rolling out new policy ... (but) reinforcing more specifics."
That's something the campaign should have been doing all along, according to many popular conservative pundits who have been griping loudly about the campaign's direction in recent weeks. Those commentators, including George Will and Laura Ingraham, argue the Nov. 6 vote should have been a "gimme election" for Romney given the tepid economic recovery.
The griping isn't limited to the chattering class — it's also in overdrive at campaign headquarters, according to an explosive new Politico.com report.
The online news outlet's Sunday night expose heaped scorn on Romney's "leading staff scapegoat," longtime Republican operative Stuart Stevens, courtesy of several unnamed campaign aides, advisers and friends of the candidate.
They blamed the chief strategist for everything from Romney's Afghanistan-free convention speech to Clint Eastwood's bizarre prime-time address and the candidate's ham-fisted, late-night attack on the Obama administration as anti-American violence erupted in Libya, resulting in four deaths, including that of the U.S. ambassador.
The report also focused heavily on how Stevens scrapped Romney's convention speech — already hastily penned by a respected Republican wordsmith who wrote it without ever meeting Romney — in favour of one written by him and the candidate at the 11th hour.
"Romney associates are baffled that such a successful corporate leader has created a team with so few lines of authority or accountability," Politico reported.
The report stirred up speculation that Stevens was on the chopping block. Those rumours were quickly dispelled by the Romney campaign.
And Stevens himself was front and centre as Romney's new ads were unveiled, telling Politico that the spots aim to define the election as "status quo versus change" and present Romney as the man with ideas and specific proposals to jump-start the economy.
He denied the campaign infighting was anything unusual.
"Like all campaigns, we have good days and bad days. I'm happy to take responsibility for the bad days," Stevens said.
In an interview with ABC News, Stevens also defended Eastwood's appearance.
"Listen, I think Clint Eastwood ... having Eastwood on your side and what he said about the president is incredibly powerful," he said. "He came out and gave a strong stance, and I think it was great."
Stevens argued that the Romney campaign is in good shape, and that Obama's post-convention bounce in the polls is withering daily.
"The president had a terrible week last week," said Stevens, referring to the violence in the Middle East. "If anybody turned on the TV and feels better about the president after last week, I'd be surprised to hear it."
Yet Obama is now ahead of Romney in public opinion polls, not just nationally but also in several of the crucial battleground states that will decide the election — Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and Florida among them.
The Obama campaign came out swinging Monday against Romney's attack ad against the president on Chinese trade.
The new ad accuses Obama of failing to get tough on Chinese trade practices — an argument that the Obama administration quickly moved to minimize by announcing its complaint to the World Trade Organization about China subsidizing its cars and Chinese-made auto parts for export.
"You can't stand up to China when all you've done is send them our jobs," Obama said during an event in Cincinnati, where he unveiled the complaint.
"You can talk a good game. But I like to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. And my experience has been waking up every single day doing everything I can to make sure that American workers get a fair shot in the global economy."
Jen Psaki, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, told reporters on Air Force One that Romney had "a special kind of chutzpah that he is going to criticize the president on an issue that he has been such a strong advocate and fighter for."
Romney, meantime, was scheduled to address a Hispanic crowd in Los Angeles later Monday. He trails Obama badly among Latinos, the fastest growing demographic in the United States.
A daily tracking poll by Latino Decisions suggests Hispanic women favour the president by a whopping 53 percentage points — 74 per cent for Obama compared to 21 per cent for Romney. The Republican fares only slightly better with Hispanic men, with 61 per cent telling pollsters they plan to vote for Obama compared to 32 per cent for Romney.
In the prepared remarks of his speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Romney hit Obama hard on the economy while pledging to do something about the country's immigration system.
"No one is exempt from the pain of this economy, but the Hispanic community has been particularly hard hit," Romney says in his prepared text.
"Many Hispanics have sacrificed greatly to help build our country and our economy, and to leave for their children a brighter future. Today, those sacrifices are being squandered by a president who cannot stop spending."