Even as he prepared to answer calls from within his own party to sharpen his message and ramp up his schedule of public rallies, beginning with a three-day bus tour through Ohio, Mitt Romney managed to insist that he was running a "very effective" campaign for President last night , adding that it was "doing a very good job".
One week after voters glimpsed the Republican challenger telling a private gathering of rich donors that 47 per cent of Americans are welfare-dependent "victims" he can't worry about, Mr Romney now finds himself under brutal pressure to return to the offensive against President Barack Obama and reverse a recent slide in public opinion polls, especially in battleground states including Ohio.
Yet, the candidate may have startled even his closest loyalists by professing in an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes last night that all remains well with his campaign. That has hardly been the verdict of some pundits even in the Republican camp like Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal, who clarified at the weekend what she had said earlier last week about the 47 per cent debacle. "The Romney campaign has to get turned around. This week I called it incompetent, but only because I was being polite. I really meant 'rolling calamity'," she wrote.
But Mr Romney appeared to view things very differently. "I've got a very effective campaign. It's doing a very good job … It doesn't need a turnaround," he boldly told CBS. Referring to some recent national polls that show him and President Obama in a dead heat, he went on: "We've got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent President."
Still, American presidents are elected according to state-by-state voting, not the national popular vote, and the past two weeks have seen Mr Obama widen leads in crucial battlegrounds that will in all likelihood decide the election.
It is no accident that Mr Romney hopes to close the book on his latest embarrassments with a bus tour in Ohio. It may also be telling that the tour will be opened by his running mate, Paul Ryan. Mr Ryan, who will address supporters in Lima, Ohio, today, is increasingly being seen as the more effective campaigner. Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin, said as much when he praised Mr Ryan and said he hadn't seen the "kind of passion I know that Paul has transferred over to our nominee".
Like other Republican luminaries, Mr Walker is no longer shy in offering his counsel to Mr Romney. "I want to see fire in the belly," he declared, demanding evidence that the nominee is "lit up and ready to go". He added: "I think you got to get off the heels and get out and charge forward."
Before stopping in Denver last night for a public event, Mr Romney had spent almost the entire weekend raising cash behind closed doors and doing it, moreover, in California, which is not a state he could ever hope to win. He will in fact only join the Ohio bus tour halfway through, in part because of an obligation to speak at a gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative, hosted by former President Bill Clinton, in New York.
Mr Obama by contrast attracted far more helpful campaign headlines on Saturday after drawing a crowd of 18,000 in Milwaukee. He eagerly picked at Mr Romney's 47 per cent wound and decried a Republican economic vision that he said would fail the middle class. "The country doesn't succeed when only the folks at the very top are doing well," Mr Obama told the crowd. "We succeed when the middle class is doing well." After an address to the UN General Assembly in New York tomorrow, Mr Obama will return to the campaign trail and, like Mr Romney, he will be in Ohio, which begins early voting next week.
If Mr Romney might appear to some to be in at least partial denial about the recent misfortunes of his campaign, he was joined yesterday by Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. "I think we had a good week last week," he told ABC News yesterday.
State profile: Why Ohio counts
Ohio is not just a battleground, it's a bellwether. The state has backed the winning candidate in every presidential election since 1964, and no Republican has ever won the presidency without winning there. Polls are tight, with Mr Obama holding a 4 per cent lead.
The majority of voters are white working class – a group that would tend to favour Mr Romney. But their numbers as a share of the vote have plummeted in recent years, replaced by white college graduates and minorities.
The economy will be the key issue come November. In a piece of good news for Mr Obama, Ohio's economy is improving much faster than the national rate, while the unemployment rate stands at 7.2 per cent, compared with 8.1 per cent nationally.Reuse content