Mitt Romney (Getty Images)
By Jackie Kucinich, USA TODAY
(USA TODAY) - Friday's lackluster jobs report put Mitt Romney's presidential campaign back on offense after spending a week struggling to explain his position health care.
Republican strategists cautioned that to stay on the offensive, the Romney campaign needs to do a better job defining the debate rather than reacting to issues as they come along.
Romney, who has been on vacation all week in New Hampshire, wasted no time responding to the news that the unemployment rate remained at 8.2% and the nation added 80,000 jobs in June. Romney staged a brief news conference in Wolfeboro and called the report "a kick in the gut."
"There's a lot of misery in America today," he said, "and these numbers understate what people are feeling and the amount of pain which is occurring in middle-class America."
Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks, said the jobs report "definitely shifts the conversation back to the economy," but Romney needs to not only set the agenda but also define himself before the Obama campaign does it for him.
"He seems to not want to offend anyone by not saying anything," Kibbe said.
David Winston, a veteran GOP pollster, said recent surveys show that people are looking for an alternative to President Obama, and "the door is wide open for Gov. Romney" to present a plan to fill that gap. "The challenge for Romney is to provide the alternative with a clear focus," he said.The Romney campaign spent the past week trying to clarify where the former Massachusetts governor stood on the health care mandate after senior aide Eric Fehrnstrom said on MSNBC that Romney did not believe it was a tax.The Supreme Court ruled at the end of June that the mandate at the heart of Obama's signature health care overhaul was constitutional because it operates like a tax, which Congress has the power to impose. Romney established a similar mandate in Massachusetts and contended it was not a tax.Other Republican leaders used the court ruling to argue that the health care bill was a massive tax increase, so Fehrnstrom's comments became the center of the political conversation, leading Romney to clarify his views in an interview with CBS on Thursday."Well, the Supreme Court has the final word," Romney said. "And their final word is that Obamacare is a tax. So it's a tax."He said he "would have taken a different course ... but the majority has ruled, and their rule is final."Today's jobs report immediately changed the subject. Republicans said the jobs numbers validated Romney's stump speech, which charges that Obama's policies haven't helped the economy and would continue to hurt the middle class.
Charlie Black, an informal adviser to the Romney campaign, said Romney should stick to that message.
"When on the trail, Gov. Romney talks every day about how to create jobs by cutting taxes, lifting regulatory burdens and taking the wet blanket of Obamacare off the backs of small-business people," he said. "That is offense."
Republican strategist Danny Diaz said the jobs numbers increased the focus on the economy, which is good for Romney.
"With the economic outlook for the rest of the year lowered, the prospects for improvement any time soon have greatly diminished," he said. "This leaves the incumbent in a tremendously vulnerable position and ensures the focus remains on the core issue which will determine the outcome of the race: jobs."
Republican strategist John Feehery put that message in simpler terms.
"Want a job? Vote Romney," he said.