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Despite a series of political fumbles, Mitt Romney is "still very much in the game," according to political strategist Steve Schmidt. But, he says, it will take some work.
Schmidt served as John McCain's senior strategist in the 2008 election and helped George W. Bush get reelected in 2004. He spoke with Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon about the Romney campaign's stresses.
"I don't think you can make a broad and sweeping statement about Mitt Romney on the basis of the last three weeks, where you've had a number of these self-inflicted political errors," he says." Just because they did not make an effective case, for example at the convention, does not inhibit them from beginning to make an effective case."
Not everyone is so optimistic. In The Wall Street Journal on Friday, conservative columnist Peggy Noonan expanded on previous comments:
"The Romney campaign has to get turned around. This week I called it incompetent, but only because I was being polite. I really meant 'rolling calamity.'"
Romney, for his part, shrugs off polls showing he's slipping. In a 60 Minutes interview to be broadcast Sunday, Scott Pelley of CBS News asks the candidate how he plans to turn things around with little more than six weeks to go until Election Day. Romney responds:
"Well, it doesn't need a turnaround. We've got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president to the United States."
Schmidt spoke with NPR before Romney's campaign released the candidate's 2011 tax return on Friday, just as the issue had been slipping out of the headlines. By then, there were already new challenges for the campaign to overcome.
There was the video leaked on Monday where Romney talks about the "47 percent" of Americans who would vote for President Obama, which drew negative reaction in swing states. Plus, there has been news of infighting among his campaign staff, including a Politico report last Sunday.
Schmidt says internal campaign strife can be demoralizing. "When you see people doing that, that's a sign of losing control," he says.
The goal for Romney's people, he notes, is to focus on what they have in common: their belief in Romney. "And that one big thing, that unifies the campaign staff, has to be able to overcome all the other differences to create functionality in the campaign."
It's too early to tell whether these challenges are a reflection on Romney's leadership, Schmidt says. "To a degree, a presidential campaign is the most elaborate character test that we could possibly design to see who has the mettle to be president.
"If they come back from this, it'll be viewed as a great achievement and it will show grittiness and determination," he says. Until the campaign is finished, "we can't write that chapter yet."
That means there's still time for the Romney campaign to make that effective case.
"They can't focus on opportunities lost. They've got to focus on the opportunities ahead. And the opportunities ahead are these debates," Schmidt says. "You can't overstate their importance."