Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON- Somewhere in the last month or so, Mitt Romney's presidential campaign lost its laser-like focus on the bleak, job- starved Obama economy.

It allowed Obama's campaign to define him with a blitz of television ads in the summer, as Romney husbanded his resources and declined to aggressively punch back in the key battleground states that will decide the outcome of this election.

That allowed Barack Obama's shell game campaign of deception and distraction to move into the lead on some of Romney's bread-and-butter issues, including a slight edge on handling the economy, according to one poll.

Even more incredibly, all of this occurred while the weak Obama economy grew weaker by the month. Job creation is at a standstill and the economy is in the 43rd month of 8 percent-plus unemployment, with no relief in sight.

Economists are scaling back their growth forecasts to between 1.5 percent and 2 percent, the medical equivalent of being on the critical list.

The message these forecasts send: The economy isn't getting better this year or even much better next year.

"For overall GDP in the third quarter, we now see some downside risk to our current call for a 1.5 percent growth rate," says JP Morgan economist Michael Feroli.

Even Obama admitted in his promise-them-anything convention speech that the road ahead could get worse : "I won't pretend the path I'm offering is quick or easy," he said.

Four years into Obama's trouble-plagued presidency, the bed- riddern economy still hasn't recovered from the recession. If anything, it has taken a turn for the worse.

Twenty-three million Americans are either unemployed, working part-time or fewer hours when they need full-time, or have stopped looking for work and thus are not counted among the unemployed. The last category is responsible for most of the decline in the nation's unemployment rate.

After four years of failed stimulus policies, Americans are struggling more than ever to keep their heads above water.

Start with $4 a gallon gas prices because of a spike in oil prices from Obama's restrictions on increased drilling. That shoved consumer prices up last month to the fastest pace in more than three years "and squeezed spending on other items, threatening to slow the already sluggish" economy, Reuters news agency reported.

Obama is campaigning in the Midwest touting the auto industry's comeback, hinting that manufacturing is on the mend.

The truth is that factory, mine and utility production fell 1.2 percent, according to Commerce Department data released last week.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.