Can Mitt Romney's campaign recover?

  • 18 September 2012
  • From the section US & Canada
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Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign fundraiser in Salt Lake City, Utah 18 September 2012
Image caption Mitt Romney's campaign has said it will change its strategy - but what will that mean in practice?

The Romney remarks are meat and drink to all of us who are covering the US election campaign.

Whether you call them gaffes, mis-steps or outbreaks of unexpected honesty, such remarks are revealing. They are all part of the thrills and spills of the destruction derby we call an election campaign. Whether they shift the opinion polls one jot or change any voter's mind is another matter.

Whatever you think of Mr Romney's ideological spin on his own strategy, his basic point is true: the majority of voters are not going to change their minds.

There are about 10% of voters in the middle who matter. And there is no evidence that these news stories, on their own, change anyone's mind.

Religion and guns

There is an obvious comparison: the rich candidate who told rich donors that some white Americans were clinging to their religion and their guns.

Of course that candidate, Barack Obama, is now president. His remarks caused just as much of a fuss as Mr Romney's, although they were much earlier in the 2008 electoral cycle.

There is a lot of debate on the blogosphere about the similarities and differences with that incident. Those on the left tend to stress that Mr Obama's point was the opposite of Mr Romney's - he would try to get around perceptions and attempt to win people over.

Many conservatives think Mr Romney has spoken the plain truth and nobody should be offended by it, whereas, they say, Mr Obama was guilty of bigotry.

But one senior conservative, Bill Kristol, while making the same comparison and saying Mr Romney should be president, sees his remarks as "arrogant and stupid", insulting his own voters.

A new charge

This moment may not be important on its own. It probably isn't a pivot. But it stands as a symbol for a few days that could be - might be - pivotal.

For seven days now Mr Romney has been on the back foot, excusing himself and explaining his words, not pushing his message. At the very time when the opinion polls suggests that he needs to be aggressively fighting for every inch of ground, he has lost the microphone.

Politico's article about "stumbles" in the campaign suggests that the blame game had begun before that, a clear sign of an ailing campaign. If there's not a meltdown then there's something more serious than a highly strung rethink.

Although it is not clear what it will mean in practice, there is constant chatter about a new focus for the team.

There are just 49 days to go before America votes. It smacks of desperation for a candidate, standing on a gaffe-strewn battlefield, to order a new charge in a different direction.

But that doesn't mean it is bound to fail.