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As President Barack Obama gears up for his party's convention next week, rival Mitt Romney is embracing newfound confidence that he can pull off a White House win in November, his aides say.
Energised by his recent Republican convention and his choice of budget hawk Paul Ryan as running mate, and by adroitly drilling into the disappointment of the Obama presidency, Romney's team is projecting a growing self-assurance as the voter deficit they faced just one month ago has all but evaporated.
“We're confident about our position in the race, but we're not getting cocky,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams told AFP.
“We're going to do exactly what we've done the entire campaign:
keep our head down, work hard, focus on (Romney's) record in the private sector and Obama's inability to turn around the economy.”
Team Romney is clearly pleased with its position. “We understand there are two difficult months ahead,” Williams said. But “the race is tied. That is a very dangerous position for an incumbent.”
In recent months, Obama unleashed a barrage of negative ads that hit Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and multimillionaire private equity investor, on his business record, his refusal to release pre-2010 tax returns and a web of investments in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands.
The Republicans have not only weathered the summer storm; chief Romney strategist Stuart Stevens said Obama's campaign is in trouble.
“He's not giving people any reason to vote for him,” Stevens said on the campaign plane as Romney headed to Tampa, Florida ahead of his convention speech on Thursday.
“He has millions fewer voters than he had four years ago. What does that say? They've outspent us (by) $100 million, and if the election were held tomorrow we'd win.”
Perhaps that outlook is what's improved the vibe on the campaign plane in recent weeks. Close aides like Stevens stand in the aisles smiling and chatting more. Romney's wife Ann recently offered homemade Welsh cakes to Secret Service officers and reporters.
And on a Saturday flight from Miami to New Hampshire, when the press corps rolled an orange down the aisle to Romney bearing a question about whether Senator Rob Portman would be the Obama stand-in during upcoming debate prep, Romney gamely played along.
He wrote on the orange and bowled it back. “Shh, don't tell Sununu! But yes,” was his response, referring to Romney surrogate John Sununu, a former governor of New Hampshire.
Aides say Romney's choice of Ryan as VP, millions in donations piling up in his campaign coffers and the GOP convention are producing a groundswell of fresh support.
Romney went so far as to have his campaign chief Bob White, a partner with him at Bain Capital, address the convention.
And he did not shy away from describing Romney's time there, a period Democrats have used to paint the Republican White House hopeful as a callous businessman who helped outsource jobs while lining his own pockets.
“Why has Mitt taken so many challenges? It's because he runs towards problems,” White said.
“When the obstacles seemed insurmountable and others panicked, Mitt was the calm in the storm,” he added. “His confidence gave us confidence.”
As Romney prepared to give his acceptance speech in Tampa, he strode down the red carpet like a champion, hugging friends, fist-bumping a supporter and receiving backslaps and kisses from the party elite.
It may have marked the moment Americans first noticed a re-energized, re-imaged candidate gunning for the White House, and Romney is feeding off that on the campaign trail.
“He is noticing the larger crowds, he's feeling the energy, he's playing off it in his speeches,” a campaign aide told AFP on condition of anonymity.
And Romney's five sons “are in very high spirits,” said the aide. “They felt that we were in a strong position.”
On Saturday in Cincinnati, Ohio, Romney rehashed one of his lines from the convention.
Obama “famously said he was going to slow the rise of the oceans and he was going to heal the planet. And our promise to you is this: we're going to help the American people and help the families of America,” Romney said to a roar.
On Friday, the nominee flew to Louisiana, meeting with victims of Hurricane Isaac a full three days before Obama was expected to touch down in the state on Monday.
It was a questionable move for a candidate to jet into a disaster area ahead of a sitting president, but Stevens waved the argument away.
“I don't understand why that would be remotely inappropriate,” he told reporters. - Sapa-AFP