* Romney's strategy could cost him election, some say

* Conservatives challenge him to detail his ideas

* Republican concerns grow as Obama takes lead in polls

By John Whitesides

WASHINGTON, Sept 12 (Reuters) - For months, Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign has been built on broad themes: cut taxes, repeal and replace Democratic President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul, increase defense spending.

But when it comes to specifics - namely, how to pay for the tax cuts and extra spending, and what exactly a Romney healthcare plan would look like - Romney has been reluctant to give details, essentially gambling that Americans' frustration with high unemployment rates and a struggling economy will be enough to propel him to the White House.

Now, with polls showing that Obama has taken a slight lead in the race after the Republican and Democratic national conventions, increasingly anxious conservatives are calling on Romney to spell out more of his plans - even if it risks alienating some undecided voters.

The calls for a change in strategy have become particularly loud since Sunday, when Romney struggled during an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" program to explain what income tax loopholes he might close to help offset the cost of his tax cuts, or whether he would keep portions of Obama's healthcare overhaul, including a requirement of insurance coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions.

"Mr. Romney's pre-existing political calculation seems to be that he can win the election without having to explain the economic moment or even his own policies," said an editorial published Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal, which often is a barometer of the thinking of leading conservatives.

"Such vagueness carries its own political risks," the Journal editorial said.

It isn't the first time that conservatives in his party have raised doubts about Romney's campaign strategy, but with the Nov. 6 election less than two months away, the calls for the former Massachusetts governor to be bolder and more explicit have become increasingly urgent.

William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said that Romney could be setting a course to lose the election despite the factors working in the Republican's favor - such as the nation's 8.1 percent unemployment rate.

"When a challenger merely appeals to disappointment with the incumbent and tries to reassure voters he's not too bad an alternative," Kristol wrote, "that isn't generally a formula for victory."

Romney's advisers say they are sticking with their strategy and not panicking. A Romney adviser from outside the campaign said there was nothing to be gained by putting out a specific plan on issues such as his tax-cut proposal because it would have to be negotiated with Congress.

"When he's president, it might call for him to put out a more specific plan to negotiate with them. But there's no reason for him to put out a detailed tax reform plan now," the adviser said. "It'll just allow the Obama campaign to shoot at it and not put out a plan themselves."


Romney has long had trouble winning over many of the Republican Party's most ardent conservatives, a problem that was evident during a long and bruising primary campaign.

He is distrusted by some conservatives largely because of moderate stances he took as governor of liberal Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, when he backed a state healthcare overhaul that was a model for Obama's nationwide plan.

Obama's post-convention "bounce" - which put the Democrat ahead in what had been an even race - may be short-lived. But it has ignited a wave of Republican hand-wringing about Romney's campaign team and his failure to flesh out his conservative positions more boldly.

Romney's campaign is "too intent on winning over the small batch of uncommitted and independent voters by saying absolutely nothing that might possibly offend them," John Podhoretz, a conservative columnist and former presidential speech writer for Ronald Reagan, wrote in the New York Post.

"The problem with that strategy is a) it means he doesn't say much, and b) it does nothing to stimulate the enthusiasm of those already in his corner," Podhoretz said.


Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham said Monday that if Romney's campaign fails to capitalize politically on the nation's sluggish economy, the implications for the Republican Party should be lasting.

"If you can't beat Barack Obama with this record, then shut down the party," she said. "Shut it down. Start new, with new people. This is a 'gimme' election, or at least it should be."

As dire as such analyses make it seem for Romney, the presidential race remains close. An online Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday showed Obama with a 3 percentage point edge on Romney, 46 percent to 43 percent. The two candidates were tied on who would do the best job handling the economy.

The criticism Romney is facing from within his party is similar to the concerns some Democrats expressed about Obama's campaign in early September 2008, after Republican John McCain charged out of his convention on a wave of momentum and, with vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, seized a slight lead in opinion polls.

At the time, Obama tried to reassure supporters and retooled his message to take a more aggressive approach. Shortly afterward, the worst financial crisis since the 1930s hit the United States, boosting Obama's calls for change after the eight-year tenure of Republican President George W. Bush. The Democrat cruised to a relatively easy 7-point victory over McCain.

Romney, a former private equity executive whose vast holdings in offshore accounts has led Democrats to accuse him of dodging taxes and call for him to release more than the two years of tax returns he has made public, has echoed that argument in refusing to release more returns.

He has said that doing so would merely give Obama's allies more targets for criticism. Romney's stance has, however, added to criticism of his campaign's tactical decisions.

"It is becoming clear that if President Obama is re-elected, it will be despite the economy and because of his campaign," Charlie Cook, founder of the non-partisan Cook Report, wrote in the National Journal. "If Mitt Romney wins, it will be because of the economy and despite his campaign."

Cook said Romney's campaign has been to slow to counter efforts by Obama's team to portray Romney as a wealthy businessman who is out of touch with middle-class Americans.

The Romney campaign's decision "to defer any biographical ads until August - ads that would have sought to define Romney on a personal level beyond being just rich, as someone worthy of trust, and as someone whom swing voters might be comfortable having in the White House - is inexplicable," Cook said.

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  • King Tut's Penis

    Seriously, we know more about a 3,300-year-old teen pharaoh mummy penis than we do about what lies carefully preserved in Romney's tax returns before 2010. That's either because we <a href="http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/culturelab/2010/06/on-the-trail-of-tutankhamens-penis.html" target="_hplink">know a fair amount about King Tut's mummified member</a> -- like the fact that it broke off and went missing for a while -- or because we know absolutely nothing about the pre-2010 presidential candidate's tax returns.

  • Coca-Cola's Secret Formula

    Despite the presence of a number of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coca-Cola_formula#Purported_secret_recipes" target="_hplink">purported recipes</a> for Coca-Cola, the company has long maintained that there is only a single copy of the actual formula, kept stashed away in a safe place. Last year, however, Coke <a href="http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/dynamic/press_center/2011/12/coca-cola-secret-formula-moves-to-the-world-of-coca-cola.html" target="_hplink">moved its secret formula</a> to a vault housed at the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta. Sure, it was only a token step toward disclosure -- and probably more about making money -- but at least it was something. Your move, Mr. Romney.

  • The Bermuda Triangle

    This region may be great for <a href="http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/2012/08/investigating-mitt-romney-offshore-accounts" target="_hplink">stashing tons of Romney's money</a>, but it isn't some sort of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bermuda_Triangle" target="_hplink">isosceles zone</a> of supernatural trickery. Detailed reports of notorious shipwrecks in this area have led most experts to conclude they were caused by bad weather, rogue waves or simply human error.

  • How To Speak Prairie Dog

    <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1kXCh496U0" target="_hplink">Those noises</a> might sound like just a bunch of annoying, high-pitched chirps, but <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8493000/8493089.stm" target="_hplink">Professor Con Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University has more discerning ears than you</a> -- and probably a cooler name, too. Slobodchikoff says the language of the prairie dog is the most complex of any animal decoded so far. The varmints (which Romney <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-iRlBH3G6A" target="_hplink">may or may not enjoy hunting</a>) even have different calls for different predators. According to Slobodchikoff's studies, prairie dogs can alter their pitch and frequency to specify the size and distance of whatever is approaching.

  • Donald Trump's Mystery Hair

    Trump and Romney might have a lot of things in common -- their mutual <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/04/since-president-obama-released-his-birth-certificate-will-donald-trump-release-his-tax-returns/" target="_hplink">fear of releasing tax returns</a> comes to mind. But when it comes to coiffure, they are worlds apart. There have long been questions about Trump's hair. Mainly, "What is that thing on Donald Trump's head?" Well, according to him, it's just hair, carefully manicured and positioned every morning so as to make sure that no mortal can ever catch a glimpse of his forehead. From what we know, there's actually only been <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ezz1BkuE1Qg" target="_hplink">one known sighting</a> of that part of his body. Here's what Trump <a href="http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/donald-trump-lets-his-hair-down-20110511" target="_hplink">told <em>Rolling Stone</em></a> about his hair: <blockquote>"OK, what I do is, wash it with Head and Shoulders. I don't dry it, though. I let it dry by itself. It takes about an hour. Then I read papers and things. This morning I read in the <em>New York Post</em> ... I also watch TV. I love Fox, I like Morning Joe, I like that the Today show did a beautiful piece on me yesterday -- I mean, relatively speaking. OK, so I've done all that. I then comb my hair. Yes, I do use a comb ... Do I comb it forward? No, I don't comb it forward ... I actually don't have a bad hairline. When you think about it, it's not bad. I mean, I get a lot of credit for comb-overs. But it's not really a comb-over. It's sort of a little bit forward and back. I've combed it the same way for years. Same thing, every time."</blockquote>

  • Area 51

    Like Mitt Romney's tax returns, this Nevada military base is shrouded in a thick veil of secrecy. While there is undoubtedly a lot of stuff going on in there -- most of it likely far more interesting than Romney's tax history -- Americans aren't completely in the dark about the base. Since acknowledging the existence of the Air Force base, the government has predictably been hush-hush about projects at the facility. Historians have, however, have <a href="http://books.google.com/books/about/Shadow_Flights.html?id=cmMBAAAACAAJhttp://books.google.com/books/about/Shadow_Flights.html?id=cmMBAAAACAAJ" target="_hplink">written books</a> about Area 51's less juicy past. No aliens or UFOs, just some <a href="http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-mag-april052009-backstory,0,5104077.story" target="_hplink">advanced flight technology</a> and military procedures that have gone awry at times. But that doesn't rule out the possibility that there's a lot more going on there now. Alien spacecraft? Energy weapons? A time travel project? Your imagination's the limit. In a way, the government's approach to releasing information about Area 51 seems a lot like Romney's strategy for releasing his tax returns. Release a few boring details -- like your 2010 and 2011 forms -- only to keep everything else, presumably the most interesting stuff -- under wraps. When people ask what's going on back there, just tell them to pipe down and mind their own business. As with Area 51, Romney's method is proving an awful way to quiet speculation.

  • What Space Smells Like

    Do Mitt Romney's tax returns smell like "seared steak, hot metal and welding fumes"? If they did, they'd smell just like <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/22/what-does-space-smell-like_n_1691642.html" target="_hplink">space</a>, according to astronaut spacewalk veterans.

  • The God Particle

    <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/03/higgs-boson-explained-god-particle_n_1645732.html" target="_hplink">The God particle</a>. <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higgs_boson" target="_hplink">The Higgs boson</a>. You say "potato," I say "potah ... Whaaa, come again?" To make a very long and nerdy story over-simplistically short, a bunch of really smart theoretical physicists have used a multi-billion dollar piece of equipment to prove the existence of the particle that gives mass to other elementary particles. They did this by blasting things at each other at near-light speed around a 17-mile tube track of death (or life?) located in a subterranean bunker in Europe. Is it possible that a mini hadron collider is listed as an expense on Romney's tax returns?

  • Why Sloths Are Bad At Balance And Stuff

    If the captains of the animal kingdom were picking species to partake in what Mitt Romney might call "sport," three-toed sloths might get picked dead-last -- unless that sport somehow hinged entirely upon being incredibly cute. Not only are these sloths lethargic, but they're clumsy, which is actually not a problem because they pretty much only come down from trees to poop. Because their slow-motion lifestyles afford them the luxury of being able to survive without a good sense of balance, the semi-circular ear canals that control their equilibrium <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/01/sloth-balance-bradypus-variegatus_n_1728811.html" target="_hplink">have never been honed by the evolutionary process</a>.

  • What Dinosaur Sex Looked Like

    So <em>that's</em> what it looked like, at least according to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/09/dinosaur-sex_n_1659391.html" target="_hplink">Beverly Halstead, an Englishman </a>known for his candid talk about dinosaur mating before his death in 1991. Figuring out the "cloacal kiss" based on fossils from the Cretaceous Period must have been difficult. But it was still easier than guessing what Romney's tax returns might look like.

  • How To Survive The Zombie Apocalypse

    While <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/cdc-denies-zombies-existence_n_1562141.html" target="_hplink">they tell us</a> zombies aren't real ... <em>yet</em> ... that doesn't mean people aren't preparing like there's a brain-starved horde headed straight for their front door. Countless books, movies, TV shows, comics and websites provide entertainment and ideas about the best way to make it through Apocalypse Z without becoming a zombie. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm" target="_hplink">hopped on board as a joke</a>, but the government's <a href="http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/" target="_hplink">preparedness guide</a> appears to be taking it pretty seriously. Too bad the CDC is only serving up a barebones list of recommendations. Wait, why do we care about a presidential wannabe's tax returns again? I'm going to draw up a contingency plan.

  • What Ryan Lochte's Mom Knows About His Sex Life

    Ike Lochte seems to know too much about her swimmer son's "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/02/ike-lochte-ryans-mom-talks-one-night-stands-single-girlfriend-today-show_n_1733433.html" target="_hplink">one-night stands</a>." Way too much. Like "the opposite of how much we know about Romney's tax returns" too much.

  • Mitt Romney's Car Elevator

    Romney reportedly shelled out $55,000 to install a top-of-the-line "Phantom Park" car elevator in his California beachfront mansion, which will allow him to "<a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/05/mitt-romney-ordered-55000-phantom-park-car-elevator-designer-says/" target="_hplink">maintain a hands-on relationship</a> with his machines," according to the maker. Sounds kinky. Kinky enough to make me want to read more tax returns. Oh Romney -- you <em>tease</em>.

  • President Obama's Annoying Stoner Habit

    Barack Obama was a cheeky kid who refused to observe proper stoner decorum, but author David Maraniss writes in Obama's biography that he pretty much got away with it. Here's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/25/obama-pot-smoking-details_n_1545904.html" target="_hplink">a passage that describes</a> the future president's behavior while a member of the "Choom Gang" at his Hawaii high school. <blockquote>"When a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted 'Intercepted!' and took an extra hit."</blockquote> We also know a little bit about Romney's adolescence. Primarily that he was kind of <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/mitt-romneys-prep-school-classmates-recall-pranks-but-also-troubling-incidents/2012/05/10/gIQA3WOKFU_story.html" target="_hplink">a jerk</a>. More tax returns might be able to prove to the nation that he's changed a lot since then, though it's hard to think that he isn't scared they'd actually do the opposite.

  • Magnets

    <a href="http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/fcking-magnets-how-do-they-work" target="_hplink">Sorry juggalos</a>, we're pretty sure the scientists <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetism" target="_hplink">are right</a> about this one. It's all about the magnetic fields.

  • Easter Island's Moai

    These monoliths are frequently touted as some of earth's greatest mysteries. That's because people are lazy. Researchers actually know a lot about these gargantuan rock statues. National Geographic did a <a href="http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/national-geographic-channel/full-episodes/explorer/ngc-easter-island-underworld/" target="_hplink">lengthy series</a> on the studies of ancient Easter Island culture, and recently announced that it may have explained one of the biggest remaining unknowns: How the moai were transported. According to a <a href="http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/06/120622-easter-island-statues-moved-hunt-lipo-science-rocked/" target="_hplink">new theory</a>, they were carved so they could be rocked back and forth, or "walked," to their destination. It would have required a lot of man power, but no trees, which the island lacked for a number of years. At least that's what the archaeology suggests. The visual comparison to the left, however, makes a compelling argument that Romney could have more direct knowledge about the mighty moai.

  • How Alicia Silverstone Feeds Her Baby

    She "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/29/alicia-silverstone-premastication-pre-chew-food_n_1389544.html" target="_hplink">premasticates</a>." That means she chews her food and spits it into the mouth of her son, who's named "Bear Blu," for some reason. Just like a bird. Thirty years of Romney's tax returns couldn't make you un-know that.

  • Amelia Earhart's Final Resting Place

    The answer to this one may be as boring as Mitt Romney wants you to believe his tax returns are. While it's exciting to concoct theories about Earhart being captured, executed, or actually <a href="http://tighar.org/Projects/Earhart/Archives/Books/BookReviews/earhartsurvive.html" target="_hplink">surviving to assume another identity</a> and live out her life in the great state of New Jersey, the far more likely scenario is that she perished on a remote tropical island in the southwest Pacific. Discovery <a href="http://news.discovery.com/history/amelia-earhart-resting-place.html" target="_hplink">reports</a> that researchers believe evidence found on the island of Nikumaroro suggests Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, died there after an emergency landing. In 1940, a British Colonial Service found skeletal remains on the island consistent with a woman of European descent. Near those bones lay a woman's shoe, an empty bottle and a sextant box for a piece of equipment similar to the one Noonan had used. According to Discovery, they "likely eventually succumbed to any number of causes, including injury and infection, food poisoning from toxic fish, or simply dehydration," at which point their bones may have been picked clean and carried off by enormous coconut crabs.

  • John Boehner's Tan

    If you believe House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), his tan is natural, thanks entirely to genetics, <a href="http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/09/08/john-boehner-defends-his-famous-tan/" target="_hplink">lawn-mowing</a>, mountain biking and a heavy dose of golf. "I have never been in a tanning bed or used a tanning product," he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/23/john-boehner-tanning-bed_n_736897.html" target="_hplink">said in a 2010 interview</a>. In the absence of any other evidence, we'll have to take his word for it. In this case, it doesn't bother me in the slightest.