Mitt Romney is coming off a pretty good week. He out fund-raised Barack Obama by $16 million, according to the latest monthly report, and he jumped all over Obama for the President’s gaffe about the economy’s private sector “doing fine.”
But it’s still 149 days until the presidential election. And if Romney was feeling good about where he stands in the race, a couple of Republican governors brought him back to earth Sunday.
Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Mitch Daniels of Indiana both went on TV talk shows to suggest that Romney needs to do more than fire rhetorical shots across Obama’s bow, hoping the incumbent will stumble again or that somebody else – the irrepressible Bill Clinton? – knocks him off-message.
Gov. Walker, who just won a big recall election – a big loss for labor unions, a key part of the Democratic base – put it this way:
"I don't think we win if it's just about a referendum on Barack Obama," Walker said on Face the Nation. "I think people like [Wisconsin Rep.] Paul Ryan and others hope that he goes big and bold." Walker said, adding that “Romney’s got a shot if the ‘R’ next to his name doesn’t just stand for Republican, it stands for reformer, if he shows my state and he shows Americans that he’s got a plan to take on those reforms.”
“Big and bold” is not necessarily the phrase one would attach to Romney, whose history in business and politics has been marked by caution.
Walker also took issue with something Romney said last week when he derided Obama for suggesting that one problem with the economy is “oftentimes cuts initiated by governors or mayors who are not getting the kind of help that they have in the past from the federal government.”
“He wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers,” Romney said of Obama. “He says we need more firemen, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”
That’s a misreading of what happened in Wisconsin, Walker suggested Sunday.
"I know in my state our reform allowed us to protect firefighters, police officers and teachers; that's not what I think when I think of big government," he said.
"It would be, I think, a huge mistake for Republicans to misread Wisconsin as some kind of great harbinger. I don't see it that way at all," he said. "I mean, there was clearly a threat of 'enough already' vote there that said it is an abuse of the process with all of the recalls. It's not even clear that Gov. Romney will be that strong in Wisconsin."
Like Walker, Daniels also urged Romney to move beyond his political comfort zone, more “big and bold.”
"The American people, I think, will rightly demand to know something more than he's not President Obama," he said. “He’s got to use this fall as an opportunity to build a consensus across – I hope – a broad spectrum of Americans to make the big changes we need to restore a vibrant, private sector.”
Though he may have had a frustrating week, Obama is not exactly on the ropes despite gaffes and stumbles – not to mention an economy slow to recover. When matched against Romney, he's still up a tick in the Real Clear Politics polling average, and he's very near the critical 50 percent approval rate for incumbent presidents seeking reelection.
As Charles Babington of the Associated Press points out, about 10 battleground states could determine the election, seven of which have unemployment rates better than the national average.
“Most of the states are led by Republican governors eager to highlight their progress in creating jobs. That complicates Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's claim that the economy has been so mismanaged that Obama deserves to be ousted,” Babington writes. “In addition, a chief Romney criticism, that Obama is hindering energy production, is undermined by robust drilling for natural gas that's creating jobs and some wealthy landowners in two important states, Ohio and Pennsylvania.”