DES MOINES, Iowa – For months, Mitt Romney has had one main focus — bludgeoning President Barack Obama on the economy.
Now, the Republican presidential candidate has started poking at Obama from all sides as he looks to gain ground. In recent days, Romney has criticized Obama in TV ads and speeches on topics that include farm policy, transparency, military voting rights, welfare reform and religious freedom.
"Who shares your values?" a new Romney ad asks — and suggests that Obama doesn't.
Republicans have spent weeks complaining both publicly and privately that Romney's economy-only focus wouldn't be enough to overtake Obama and that the certain GOP nominee needed to broaden his criticism.
Specifically, these Republicans have been pressing Romney to go after Obama in areas that resonate with party loyalists as the close contest approaches its final push — the sprint from the Republican National Convention later this month to the election in November.
"I understand the economy is the top issue, but you don't want to be so maniacally focused that you ignore everything else," said Keith Appell, a Republican consultant who advises conservative groups. "There's always a risk of becoming too focused — a horse with blinders — and not seeing some of the other things around you. Campaigns need focus. But there's something to be said for peripheral vision when you're trying to hold a coalition together."
The GOP, composed of advocates for smaller government, anti-tax activists, social conservatives and religious voters, long has been skeptical of the former Massachusetts governor and has reluctantly embraced him.
But, Republicans say, the candidate needs to ensure that these core Republicans work on his behalf in the campaign's homestretch, knocking on doors and making phone calls to get backers to turn out at the polls.
Romney, it seems, is heeding the advice, blasting Obama on issues that are certain to excite the party's conservative base.
Romney advisers, for their part, say all the issues Romney has been raising lately have aspects that appeal to middle-class voters and buttress the campaign's central pitch on the economy.
"That focus on the middle class has been here since the beginning," says Romney adviser Kevin Madden. Still, he acknowledges: "At this point in the campaign, we are sharpening it."
Romney also is trying to push past a foreign trip that was riddled with missteps and a long stretch of the campaign in which he was under withering, sustained criticism from Obama.
In recent days, Romney charged that the Obama administration was trying to limit early voting privileges of the military in Ohio. Obama's team says Romney distorted the facts.
Romney also accused Obama in a TV ad — and in a stream of appearances and conference calls with top surrogates — of quietly unraveling welfare work requirements, a pitch intended to underscore the Republican's argument that Obama is spending taxpayer dollars irresponsibly. The White House called the claim dishonest.
Reviving a hot-button issue from months ago, Romney also hit Obama on his health care law mandating insurance coverage for birth control without co-pays. The new ad claims: "President Obama used his health care plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith." Obama's team disputed that characterization.
Says Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith: "Mitt Romney continues to make statements that he knows are both untrue and hypocritical."
In Iowa this week, Romney let the setting of an unannounced stop serve as unspoken criticism of the Obama administration's farm regulations. The candidate strode into a 60-acre farm field with Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, a fourth-generation farmer who grows corn and soy beans, and the two talked about the drought that has hammered farmers across the country, including Iowa's $14 billion corn industry.
From its base in Boston, Romney's campaign also has been criticizing Obama over political — rather than policy — issues, such as former White House aides setting up coffee meetings near the White House on personal email accounts.
The more-than-the-economy approach is earning praise from Republicans.
"You never want to stray from your core issue and his core issue is the economy and the need to create jobs," said Andrew Boucher, a Republican consultant who was former Sen. Rick Santorum's political director. "But you want to bring more and more people into your coalition by talking about their issues."