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Romney camp: Polls can change 'next week'

BOSTON -- Top aides to the GOP's presumptive nominee Mitt Romney were at a loss today to explain the candidate's recent slide in a series of national polls which show Romney dropping anywhere from seven to nine points behind the president as the nominating conventions approach at the end of this month.

"It’s the middle of summer. It’s the doldrums. It’s the middle of the Olympics,” a senior Romney adviser told reporters gathered for a briefing at the campaign's Boston headquarters. “There's not been any national news, anything that would push these numbers from minus-three to minus-nine points. That's a huge shift. You have to have some kind of precipitating event to move numbers like that."

As we noted this morning, three national polls released late this week -- from CNN, Fox and Reuters/Ipsos -- all show Romney slipping out of the margin of error nationally in his effort to unseat the president.

With reporters gathered to learn more about Romney's swing-state bus tour this weekend, a top adviser dismissed the slip in polling as a function of voters simply not paying full attention to the race yet, and predicted polls next week could just as easily show the GOP nominee-in-waiting tightening up the race, but couldn't identify any event that could have caused a real shift in voter sentiment, dismissing even the impact of the candidate's recent foreign trip as "negligible."

The shift also comes as a barrage of swing-state TV ads have hammered Romney on taxes and his business record. Romney, of course, is also on the air with his campaign and outside groups supporting him maintaining a 2-to-1 spending advantage over President Obama and his allies.

"Mark my word guys, there will be another couple of polls next week that show something, potentially show something different,” said the senior adviser. “I don't know. It’s just-- it’s unlikely that--. People are not paying as much attention to this process as we think they are, as we'd like them to.”

Advisers to Romney also used this morning's gathering of reporters as an opportunity to hit back against a recent ad from the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA, which indirectly ties Romney to the cancer death of the wife of a steelworker laid off when Bain Capital acquired his business.

"I don't think a world champion limbo dancer could get any lower than the Obama campaign right now," said senior adviser Eric Fehnrstrom, who made no distinction between the Obama campaign and the Super PAC supporting the president, which aired the ad. "Obama said he would change the tone in Washington, and he has done that. He's taken it from bad to worse."

Fehrnstrom said later, "When you start running ads accusing your opponent of killing people, then you have lost credibility.”

The Obama campaign's Lis Smith responded this way: “The Romney campaign’s faux outrage over an ad run by an outside group separate from our campaign rings extremely hollow. Mitt Romney won the Republican primary only by tearing down each of his opponents with ruthlessly negative campaigning, including ads funded by outside allies. His campaign has questioned whether the President understands what it is to be American, attacked his patriotism, and is currently running an ad that a former president and authors of the welfare-to-work legislation have called a flat-out lie.  When the Romney campaign finally reaches the high ground, we look forward to greeting them there.” 

Blurring the lines between campaigns and PACs also carries risk for Romney, as several Super PACs are airing negative ads on his behalf. The Romney campaign has also come under fire for taking issues and statements by the president out of context (albeit all issue-related) in their own ads.

"This is what campaigns are about. We go back and forth over the issues," said Fehrnstrom, who also dismissed a question suggesting that multiple Romney ads had been inaccurate. 

Tomorrow, Romney will begin a four-state bus tour to tout his “plan for the middle class,” with stops in Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio.

The Romney campaign sees the tour a "blue-states" bus tour, pointing out that all four states, while vital to Romney this go-round, were won by President Obama in 2008.

Of course, those states were all also won by former President George W. Bush, a Republican in 2004, and Obama was the first Democrat since 1964 to win Virginia and the first since 1976 to win North Carolina.

A senior adviser said polling data shows the president's support slipping from 2008 levels in all four states. That may be, but Obama won in an electoral landslide in 2008.

"These are all tight states, on the bubble, within the margin of error," the adviser said. All four are widely considered to be toss-up states.

For Romney to truly cut through the siege of political ads in all four states, the campaign may need to hold out until the Republican convention in late August, where a senior adviser said challengers typically get a bounce that is several points larger than the incumbent, and after which point voters begin to pay closer attention.

Asked about timing of a possible vice-presidential announcement to further that bounce, aides demurred, saying history showed that the vice-presidential bounce and the convention bounce tend to be one in the same, and so there was no way to predict the effect of an early vice presidential announcement. That’s because, outside of 2004, the vice-presidential pick is generally made within a week of the convention.