Still, even Romney confidants acknowledge his candidacy has so far been unable to get voters to view him the way they do. "Mitt will never be a great politician. But he might be a great leader and a great president," said Ron Kaufman, a lobbyist and senior adviser to Romney. "He's blessed to be at the right place at the right time. I think the country's going to change toward him."
This is why the campaign plans to use the national spotlight at this week's Republican nominating convention in Tampa to re-introduce Romney to voters. The convention will feature his family, his Mormon faith, his business career, his time in charge of the Winter Olympics and his four years as governor. "He has the heart of a servant," said former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, one of Romney's senior advisers. "He's also very personable, very smart and very human," Talent said. "Mitt expresses compassion for people and a desire to help more by what he does than what he says."
Americans might never see in Romney exactly what Talent and others in his inner circle do. But a successful, four-day convention might help the GOP nominee bend the trend line on his formability ratings. Such a shift might in turn help close the narrow lead Obama has held nationally despite 42 months of 8 percent-plus unemployment and a growth rate of less than 2 percent so far this year.
A voter shift toward Romney and away from Obama before the election would become evident in the contested states that will determine the election's outcome. Running on a pledge to put Americans back to work, cut the budget deficit and reign in spending, Romney is focused on the same states as Obama: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and, to a lesser extent, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, all of which went for Obama in 2008.
The Romney campaign is working hard to flip the first eight of those states, an accomplishment that would give him the White House. The campaign considers Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in play based on a softening of the president's support elsewhere. Specifically, the campaign cites recent polls showing Obama losing ground in Connecticut, Minnesota and Oregon - states that Republicans have little hope of winning - as evidence of voters moving toward Romney.
Romney's campaign also is eying an expansion of the states it will actively contest, after having fended off a summer of attacks over his tax returns and his tenure at Bain Capital. Among those is Michigan, where Romney's father served as governor, even though the dynamics there currently favor Obama.
Romney's camp has yet to prove it is willing to gamble precious resources on Pennsylvania, a state that always appears close but hasn't voted Republican for president since 1988. But with voter uneasiness, particularly among blue collar Democrats in Western Pennsylvania communities dominated by the energy industry, the Romney campaign isn't ruling out a major bid to wrest the state's 20 Electoral College votes from Obama. "The fact that we're in a jump ball election, having been outspent is pretty amazing," said Rich Beeson, Romney's campaign political director. "We're playing on their turf."
Although the Romney campaign has been sanguine about its prospects in the Midwest, where Ohio voters are anxious about the economy and Iowa voters are angry about the deficit, confidence has only increased since Romney tapped House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan as his vice presidential running mate. And, in Wisconsin, which Ryan has represented in the House for 14 years, the campaign has turned an Obama-leaning state into a toss-up. "It's amazing how wide the map is, and it looks like it will be well past Labor Day," Beeson said.
Lois Lerner, director of exempt organizations for the IRS, arrives for a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on the investigation of the IRS' targeting of political groups. Lerner invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify and caused a protest from some committee members when she offered an opening statement and engaged in dialogue with members before invoking the right.
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