With their back-to-back political conventions behind them and the general election season fully engaged, the poll found Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney running essentially even among those seen as the most probable to vote. Including those who lean toward a specific candidate, the president has 49 percent and Mr. Romney has 46 percent, a difference within the margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points on each candidate…

With 53 days remaining before the election, and only two weeks before early-voting begins in some states, the presidential contest has assumed a new feeling of urgency.

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Mitt Romney’s campaign for president appears to have quietly abandoned its guiding assumption, that the election would center on the struggling economy, and has visibly begun to feel for a new message…

“No one in Boston thinks this can only be about the economy anymore,” one top aide said last week. “The economy narrows the gap and puts us in contention, but we have to bring more to the table.”…

Ryan himself has emerged as a central player in this calculation, making the case internally for a clearer conservative policy message. One high level Republican with ties to the campaign told BuzzFeed that Ryan was chaffing at Boston constraining him from talking about and defending his policy ideas from Democratic attacks. Ryan wanted to be “unleashed,” the Republican said.

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Obama faced two very high-profile opponents in his first presidential campaign: Hillary Clinton and John McCain. They both became so vexed by their inability to puncture his positive image that they lost control of their campaigns against him.

Frustrated with their inability to win a single news cycle, their strategy ultimately devolved into a simple determination to score points wherever possible, even when it put them at odds with their original strategy. With Hillary Clinton, a campaign based on superior experience turned to accusations of plagiarism and flip-flopping. In the case of John McCain, a campaign based on patriotism and straight talk came to revolve around a random encounter Obama had with a plumber about taxes…

And now look at Romney, who set out in the general to focus voters’ attention, with relentless intensity, on the lackluster economy. As a result of losing news cycle after news cycle, he’s now throwing spaghetti, rigatoni, and fettucine against the wall, and hoping something will stick.

If there’s a teachers’ strike in Obama’s hometown, it’s time to pounce. If the Democrats at Obama’s convention fail to include “God” in their platform, it’s time to pounce. And if an ambassador gets murdered in Libya on Obama’s watch … you get the idea. Romney is all over the place, and the economy-first strategy is on the scrap heap.

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Republican lawmakers are grumbling about the direction of Mitt Romney’s campaign and say he needs to change course

The GOP members say Romney must do a better job of communicating to voters what to expect of him, either by making a bold pledge akin to George H.W. Bush’s 1988 “no new taxes” promise or fleshing policy proposals with more details…

Two legislators said Romney’s image as a seasoned Mr. Fix-it is undermined by the perceived vagueness of his policy agenda…

“If you’re going to bring it to the American people, you’ve got to show details,” said the lawmaker who questioned what he saw as efforts during the GOP convention to cast Romney as a warm and fuzzy candidate.

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Republican activists are incredulous: Why can’t Republican Mitt Romney seem to break open a tight race with President Barack Obama given the nation’s sluggish economy and conservative enthusiasm to beat the Democrat?

“He ought to be killing Obama, and he’s clearly not doing that,” said 32-year-old R.J. Robinson, one of the thousands of activists attending the annual Values Voters Summit this weekend. “He should be doing better.”

Added Mike Garner, a 27-year-old hawking “Reagan was right” buttons at the meeting: “If Romney loses this election, the party really needs to do some soul-searching.”…

[T]hey worry that the candidate himself isn’t doing enough to gain ground on Obama, who polls show has a slight edge nationally and in key states just seven weeks before the election. And they offered plenty of advice to Romney for changing the trajectory of the race in the coming weeks — echoing Republican presidential campaign veterans who over the past week have raised concerns about the state of the GOP nominee’s run and whether he was letting the race slip away from him.

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How did this happen? If there’s an overriding answer, I haven’t found it. A number of factors seem to have played a part: the press, incumbency, polling, the Obama and Romney campaigns…

• The Romney campaign. It hasn’t adjusted to the campaign as a choice. “That’s the problem,” says pollster Frank Luntz, who has conducted dozens of focus groups this year. “When your opponent has $1 billion to spend, it’s [no longer] a referendum. It’s a choice.” Swing voters and independents don’t believe Obama deserves reelection, Luntz says, but Romney “hasn’t made the case for himself.” There’s “no ‘not Obama’ lever. They’ll have to pull the Romney lever. At this point, they aren’t willing to do that. He hasn’t given them a reason why.” Were the election solely about Obama’s record, he wouldn’t need to.

Barack Obama isn’t Jimmy Carter. The economy won’t drag him down as it did Carter in 1980. In last week’s Fox News poll, Obama and Romney were tied on who voters “trust to do a better job on improving the economy and creating jobs.” The message to Romney here is so clear that even his campaign staff should be able to understand it.

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But then came his surprise selection of Paul Ryan, which seemed designed to broaden the focus of the campaign to include the deficit and to shift the conversation from a pure referendum on the past four years to an agenda for the future. Yes, Ryan’s proposals were controversial, but Romney seemed to signal that moving from bland to bold, from management to vision, from incremental change to radical reform, was more than enough to compensate for the baggage he was taking on.

And then—Romney reverted to type, with an acceptance speech better suited to a Portman pick. When conflicts emerged between Ryan’s budget and positions the Romney campaign considered more politically convenient, the young vice-presidential nominee reversed course. And if Romney has been campaigning since the convention on a theme of bold reform, it has escaped the attention of the press corps and the American people…

If he ends up winning, the skeptics—of whom I have been one—will have to acknowledge that the Obama team understands something important about twenty-first century politics that we don’t. An Obama victory would suggest a more personalized, identity-based brand of politics can trump traditional economic metrics, even when times are tough.

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Now that both conventions are over, the dimensions of the likely Romney triumph are becoming clear. Both through an analysis of the polling and an examination of the rhetoric, the parameters of the victory are emerging…

All pollsters are using 2008 models of voter turnout. Some are combining ’04 and ’08 but skewing their samples to ’08 numbers. African Americans cast 11 percent of the national vote in ’04, but their participation swelled to 13 percent in ’08. These 2 million new black voters backed Obama overwhelmingly. Will they come out in such numbers again? Will college and under 30 voters do so as well? Will Latino turnout be at historic highs? All these questions have to be answered “yes” for the polling samples so widely published to be accurate…

The function of the conventions is to formulate and articulate each party’s view of the world. The fact that they were so similar and that each was willing to trust its fate to the question of, “Are you better off?” means that the Romney message will have a very strong advantage. The decision of the Democrats to embrace this choice and not to move to the center will make it impossible for them either to re-elect their president or to command a majority in the new Senate.

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Via Mediaite.