Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei argue at Politico that the reinvigorated connection between Mitt Romney and the middle-class voters he needs began on Wednesday night. I’d argue that it began with Romney’s 60-second TV spot in which he talked directly into the camera about the economic concerns of the middle class and how his policies would improve their position. Either way, Politico recognizes that Romney has suddenly stolen the average-Joe mantle from Barack Obama, and plans to keep it:
Mitt Romney, for 90 short minutes Wednesday, transformed himself into a confident, clear-thinking champion of the average Joe. His ability to turn one winning performance into a winning campaign comes down to this: Sustain and complete the Romney Reinvention Project.
In the afterglow of the Denver duel, top campaign advisers said Thursday that the reinvention efforts will include forthcoming ads featuring clips from Romney’s much-praised debate performance, and the increased behind-the-scenes role of two close confidants — Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who played President Barack Obama in debate prep, and oldest son Tagg Romney, who has subtly taken a more active role in the selling of a more likable version of his dad. …
Throughout the debate, Mitt Romney was the cool candidate — crisp in his vision and sincere about his capacity to protect the middle class and jobless. He was the Romney his friends have long described but the public has rarely seen. But the question now is how to sustain that performance against a ferociously competitive president whose campaign has done a superior job with ads and speeches at tearing apart Romney’s policies and public image.
How does Romney plan to maintain that momentum? In part, he’s offering a mea culpa for his “47%” remarks back in May:
In an interview Thursday night with Fox News, Romney was asked what he would have said had the “47 percent” comments come up during his debate in Denver on Wednesday night with President Barack Obama.
“Well, clearly in a campaign, with hundreds if not thousands of speeches and question-and-answer sessions, now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right,” Romney said. “In this case, I said something that’s just completely wrong.”
He added: “And I absolutely believe, however, that my life has shown that I care about 100 percent and that’s been demonstrated throughout my life. And this whole campaign is about the 100 percent.”
This doesn’t surprise me, although it does surprise me a little that he waited so long to do it. Even some who believe that the situation where 47% of people pay no federal income tax has to be addressed thought Romney had erred in conflating that with government dependency. Many of those 47%, meanwhile, are people who vote for Republicans and consider themselves conservatives, too. It was an oversimplification of a real issue, one worth debating — if a candidate can communicate it clearly. This wasn’t a good presentation of that argument, and it’s not worth defending in the last four weeks of a presidential campaign.
Can Romney maintain this momentum on the middle class? It’s telling that Obama only mentioned the middle class six times in 90 minutes in Denver, three on one answer alone. The next debate won’t take place for nearly two weeks, and that’s on foreign policy, where the “middle class” argument won’t be relevant. If Romney sticks to jobs and wages over the last three years of recovery, he has an excellent opportunity to steal a march on Obama.
Update: The next debate is a townhall format, open to all topics. It’s the third debate that is focused on foreign policy.