WASHINGTON, Aug 1 – White House challenger Mitt Romney pivoted away from his gaffe-riddled foreign foray on Tuesday to refocus on the home front, as his campaign confirmed a mid-August bus tour fuelling speculation he could soon unveil his running mate.
With the all-but certain Republican nominee wrapping up his six-day trip to key US allies Britain, Israel and Poland marked by a series of controversial comments and missteps, his campaign was all too eager to embrace the domestic agenda anew.
Romney arrived back in the United States late Tuesday and will waste no time reintroducing himself to American voters. He makes at least two campaign stops in Colorado on Thursday as part of a swing out west.
Then beginning around August 10, according to his campaign, Romney will take to the road on a bus tour – his second in as many months – across multiple battleground states seen as critical to the election.
And with speculation building about his choice for vice president in his crunch battle against President Barack Obama, Romney’s road trip is looking like an opportunity to showcase a running mate in the weeks before the Republican convention, when Romney is to be officially crowned the nominee.
Sources familiar with the plans described to CNN a four-day bus tour through prime media markets in Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, and said prominent Republicans and campaign surrogates would join Romney at each of the stops.
“Sounds like VP week,” CNN quoted a Republican familiar with the schedule but who did not want to be identified discussing campaign plans.
“Hitting the big markets in the big states. It just makes sense.”
A Romney campaign official would not confirm locations or stops on the tour as details had yet to be finalized.
But the campaign was eager to fuel VP speculation, announcing the rollout of a new smartphone app that they say will deliver the first official confirmation of Romney’s running mate.
Yet critics instead were honing in on Romney’s sojourn overseas, a trip relentlessly savaged by Obama’s re-election campaign even as Romney held talks with several national leaders.
Romney lurched from one blunder to the next during his first venture on the global stage, offending the British by questioning their readiness to host the Olympics, then infuriating Palestinians by saying Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and that Israeli “culture” helps the country succeed economically.
And on Tuesday in Romney’s final stop Poland, a campaign aide lost his cool, telling reporters to “kiss my ass” as they shouted questions in vain while the Republican flag bearer finished a solemn visit to a World War II memorial in Warsaw.
Romney, struggling to overcome criticism about his business record and refusal to release more than two years of tax returns, was hoping his trip would set him apart from Obama on a few fronts, namely that he could be a better friend to Britain, Israel and Poland and stand up more forcefully against Iran and Russia.
In Warsaw he gave a rousing speech lauding Poland as a model for other nations seeking democracy and a market economy, and took a swipe at its former communist master Moscow, saying: “In Russia, once-promising advances toward a free and open society have faltered.”
Top Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said Romney flubbed several foreign policy protocols, notably his criticism of the Olympic hosts and Romney’s comments on the status of Jerusalem, which run counter to US policy.
“He offended our closest ally and triggered a troubling reaction in the most sensitive region of the world,” Gibbs said.
“He certainly didn’t prove to anyone that he passed the commander-in-chief test.”
Romney, who said he would not criticize the US president while on foreign soil, nevertheless expressed frustration with Obama’s re-election campaign.
“They’ll instead try to find anything else to divert from the fact that these last four years have been tough for our country,” Romney told Fox News before departing Warsaw.
Romney also wrote an op-ed posted late Tuesday on the National Review’s website recognizing the controversy caused by his remarks in Israel, but also doubling down on his argument that culture, particularly the culture of freedom, has a key role in creating national prosperity.
In his piece entitled “Culture Does Matter,” Romney wrote that Israel’s embrace of political and economic liberty “has created conditions that have enabled innovators and entrepreneurs to make the desert bloom.”
He made no mention of the Palestinian economy, whose growth Palestinian officials and groups like the World Bank have said is being choked by Israeli restrictions on movement of goods and people.