From the start, Mitt Romney's campaign was premised on the belief that the economy's struggles would make President Barack Obama politically vulnerable. Grim economic statistics, the assumption went, would make Romney's argument for him.
But polls show voters growing somewhat more optimistic, and increasingly willing to trust Obama as much as they do Romney on jobs and the economy.
With the race now in the home stretch and the debates starting Wednesday night, Romney's campaign appears to be shifting course, abandoning its hope of making the election a simple referendum on Obama's jobs record.
Instead, Romney intends to hit Obama with a series of arguments — on energy, health care, taxes, spending and a more direct attack on Obama's foreign policy record, Romney aides said Monday.
Some top aides at his campaign headquarters in Boston fear their simple message has become muddled. One suggested last week that Obama's campaign motto, "Forward," has been more effective — easy to understand, easy to remember and easy to say — than Romney's "Believe in America" slogan.
But advisers say Romney is armed with arguments for his face-off with Obama in Denver on Wednesday. And in television advertisements and speeches in the days ahead, the campaign plans to frame the election as a critical choice for voters.
In one effort to move beyond the economic argument, Romney accused Obama of major foreign policy failures in an opinion article published on Monday in the Wall Street Journal. Romney said the president had allowed the nation's influence to atrophy by "stepping away" from its allies.
The Republican campaign also hopes to seize on concerns about the nation's growing debt.
"Our message is very clear, which is we cannot afford four more years like the last four years, and we need a real recovery," Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to Romney, said after briefing reporters on Monday morning. " ... We know this resonates with voters."