WASHINGTON -- A senior adviser to Republican Mitt Romney admitted on Monday that the campaign has not done a good job of explaining how Romney's plan for taxes is different from that of President Obama.
"I'm not sure that voters really understand the differences between the plans that Romney has and Obama has, and I think that's one thing we're committed to trying to do moving forward is defining the differences between the two candidates on taxes," said Neil Newhouse, Romney's chief pollster, on a conference call with reporters.
Newhouse was asked by The Huffington Post why Romney has lost his edge over Obama on the question of which candidate has the better tax plan. The Wall Street Journal reported Monday morning that four recent polls have shown Obama with the advantage in an area that Romney had previously been ahead on.
Obama has delivered a simple message, saying Romney would give tax cuts to the rich and raise taxes on the middle class to pay for it. Obama wants to raise taxes on those with higher incomes.
Romney's plan is to lower rates for all brackets, and pay for it in large part by closing corporate and individual loopholes. But he has refused to say which loopholes he would close, and so Obama has filled in these gaps for him, alleging that he would eliminate exemptions for middle-class households such as the mortgage interest deduction, or the exclusion for employer-provided health insurance.
Romney has insisted that any increases that result from eliminating loopholes in the code would land on upper incomes.
Newhouse's admission that the Romney campaign needs to do better came at the tail end of a conference call where senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters that the campaign is in a new phase of relaying more details about their plan for the economy.
"We think voters now, from what we see in data and other research, are looking for, 'Ok, if we make this change how is it going to make my life better? How will things improve?'" Gillespie said. "We know that they know he has a plan, which is a good thing. But we also know that they'd like to know a little bit more about the specifics, and we're going to meet the demand."
But with 50 days until Election Day, it's an open question whether the Romney campaign has waited too long for such a move. Gillespie said the "new emphasis" was "a natural progression" in the campaign, as more Americans tune in to the race. But for much of the past year, conservatives have called on Romney to make a more robust, proactive case for his candidacy, and those voices have grown louder over the past few weeks.
The Gillespie conference call appeared to be an attempt to turn around a ship that is taking on more water by the day, after Politico reported Sunday night on dissatisfaction with senior strategist Stuart Stevens, and in the wake of a series of polls showing Romney losing ground to Obama, both nationally and in key swing states.
Like Stevens did in an interview with Politico on Sunday, Gillespie told reporters on the call that national tracking polls done by Gallup and Rasmussen Reports are the surveys that matter, and ignored other polls that show Obama opening up a wide lead on the challenger.
"The post convention bounce has faded already, and is fading, for the president," Gillespie said, arguing that Romney has gone from down-five to up-two in the last few days in the Rasmussen polls, and from down-seven to down-three in Gallup polls.
Gillespie did not say anything about a shift in message focus or strategy that Stevens talked about on Sunday. Stevens said that the economy-only emphasis would move to a "status quo versus change" message, but Gillespie, in a nearly 20-minute call, did not make any mention of such a shift.
Instead, Gillespie rattled off economic data and developments from last week that painted a very different picture than the one that emerged from most news coverage. Most political reports, including those from The Huffington Post, focused on Romney's uneven response to unrest and attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East.
Gillespie, however, pointed out that on Monday, the annual budget deficit was announced to be over $1 trillion for the fourth straight year; on Tuesday health insurance premiums were announced to have gone up again; on Wednesday the Census Bureau announced that 46 million Americans, or one in six, are "living in poverty;" on Thursday the Federal Reserve announced another round of quantitative easing in response to "the lack of economic growth and job creation;" and on Friday new manufacturing numbers showed production is down and new jobless claims have reached their highest level in two months.
"We think the American people are looking forward to how we can turn the economy around," Gillespie said.