Published August 16, 2012
BOSTON – "The president is talking about Medicare today. We want this debate. We need this debate and we will win this debate."
-- Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., campaigning in Nevada.
Romneyland is fired up.
The campaign headquarters of the soon-to-be Republican nominee has the air of a tech startup. Barebones furnishings, open spaces, lots of light streaming in and a layout that makes it hard to discern power structure.
Over here, a honcho sits at a conference table with his iPad and papers scattered in front of him barking into his cell phone. Over there, a worker bee sits in an office, quietly emailing away. ("She has real work to do," the barking honcho would later joke.)
The campaign HQ is also unusual by campaign standards because of its relative calm and order.
The traditional headquarters is profane and carries a certain air of aggression -- natural for a business dominated by high-testosterone alpha males. But Romneyland feels family-friendly and is more urgent than aggressive. Not surprisingly, given its leader, it's very businesslike here.
But on Wednesday, there was something else in the air: New optimism. After weeks of frustration as soon-to-be Republican nominee Mitt Romney took a pasting from personal attacks and after days of anxiety over Romney's chancy choice of budget hawk Paul Ryan as his running mate, the clouds were lifting.
A batch of swing-state polls showed Romney getting a bump, especially with independent voters, and the news of the day was dominated by stories about how Romney hit back hard against Vice President Joe Biden's stump-speech blunder in Virginia, where he claimed to a largely black audience that Republicans wanted to put "y'all back in chains."
The happiness at the headquarters was that of a platoon of soldiers finally in the fight they had long expected: foreboding giving way to the thrill of the charge.
The political press has been emphasizing how Romney and Ryan have been "defending" the House Budget Committee chairman's big plan for Medicare: offering a voucher program in addition to the traditional government-run plan for workers under 55.
But in Romneyland, they don't think they're defending anything. They're attacking Obama on Medicare as part of a larger construct that seeks to prosecute Obama's handling of federal spending, debt and deficits.
A persistent problem for Romenyites has been that while persuadable voters, especially the middle-income, suburban moms, don't think that President Obama has done a good job in handling the perpetually lousy economy, they are sensitive to overbroad attacks on the subject.
However much Republicans scoff at Obama's ubiquitous reminders of the "mess [he] inherited," polls consistently show that most voters agree. The narrative Obama sought in the early going was that the state of the economy is poor, but that he should be graded on a curve given the atrocious circumstances under which he came into office has had much of the desired effect.
Imagine a mom in Wood County, Ohio, a suburb of Toledo. She voted for Obama in 2008 for a lot of reasons. She liked his optimistic tone. She liked the idea of repudiating a history of institutional racism by electing the first black president. She liked his cool demeanor in the face of a crisis. But mostly she voted for Obama because she was sick of the Republicans and blamed the GOP for the Panic of 2008 that was still ongoing when it came time to vote.
Convincing her now that she made the wrong choice in 2008 is a tough sell, even if she believes Obama's policies -- especially his stimulus spending programs and health law -- have been a botch.
The argument to win her over requires a bit more subtlety. It is that Obama has not delivered on what he promised and that he has been wasteful with her hard-earned money. He may have inherited a mess, goes the argument, but he made it worse by turning on a fire hose of deficit spending.
They like Obama and believe that he has tried hard and is compassionate to their concerns. These ladies are anxious as they rifle through the Sunday paper for coupons, drive a bit farther for cheaper gasoline and forgo a full week of vacation at Myrtle Beach in favor of three days at Geauga Lake. They believe Obama shares their concerns but worry that his policies are not working.
That worry is augmented by the fact that the president's policies are so expensive. Remember that after voter worries about jobs and the economy, debt and deficits are very high on the list. And while they may also agree with the president that top earners -- those with incomes perhaps three times greater than these key swing voters -- ought to be paying more, they are certain that the federal government is spending far too much.
That adds urgency to these moms' worries about Obama. It's not just that his policies haven't delivered, it's that their children's futures are being freighted with debt to pay for them. The key concept words: unaffordable and ineffective.
This is not a new argument from Romney, but one that has snapped into much clearer relief with the selection of budget swashbuckler Ryan as his running mate.
Right now, the effort is to turn around the Democratic attacks on Ryan's Medicare program by pointing to Obama's health law, which is widely considered unaffordable, and pointing out that it was Obama who "ended Medicare as we know it" by diverting more than $700 billion from the popular entitlement program to pay for a new, expensive health-insurance entitlement.
But watch in the weeks to come as the argument switches to not cuts, but spending. While Romney will continue to argue that he is the better steward of the economy, the campaign will continue pounding away on a new narrative for Obama's presidency: that he simply sending too much for too little of a result.
They will argue that it's not just bad that Obama hasn't been able to lead the nation into prosperity, but that he has taken a path that leads to fiscal oblivion.
That idea is animating Romney's troops and giving them this new optimism. A campaign that for a long time seemed to be about surviving to fight another day has come to the day of the fight.
And Now, A Word From Charles
"Constitutionally it's an abomination. Politically it's a stroke of genius. On the policy analysis itself, you can argue it either way."
-- Charles Krauthammer on "Special Report with Bret Baier" on the implementation of President Obama's executive order granting temporary amnesty and work permits to some illegal immigrants who came to the United States as minors.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at live.foxnews.com.