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With Everything at Stake, Where's Mitt?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
A look at the Republican presidential candidate's schedule of public events shows a remarkably relaxed pace for a man who says this election is critical to America's future. Here's what Mitt Romney did on the trail in mid-September:

He had one public appearance on his schedule Monday, Sept. 17, a speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles.

He had one appearance scheduled the day before, an airport rally in Pueblo, Colo., but it was canceled after a small-plane crash there killed one person.

Romney had no public events Saturday. On Friday, Sept. 14, he attended a single rally, at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. On Thursday, he attended a single rally, at a park in Fairfax, Va. On Wednesday, he was scheduled to hold a single campaign event at his headquarters in Jacksonville, Fla., but instead appeared at a hastily organized press conference to denounce President Obama's response to the embassy crises in Libya and Egypt. On Tuesday, Romney had one event, a speech to the National Guard Association convention in Reno, Nev. And on the day before that, another single rally, in Mansfield, Ohio.

Romney's light schedule of public events "has its own body language," says Pat Caddell, the political consultant best known for his work on Jimmy Carter's 1976 and 1980 campaigns. "It doesn't strike you as a campaign in the greatest crisis this country has faced. ... (Romney) comes off as passive."

If he's not on the stump at the height of the campaign, what is Romney doing? After all, Barack Obama, when he's on the trail, usually manages to hold at least two public events each day, and he's supposed to have a full-time job.

Romney, a busy and industrious man, isn't goofing off. Privately, campaign aides point to the heavy burden of fundraising imposed on candidates since Obama blew up the system of publicly financed campaigns in 2008. Keeping up with the president in the money race takes up a lot of Romney's time.

Aides also stress that Romney is not the only person campaigning for the Republican ticket. Running mate Paul Ryan is out on his own most of the time, as are, occasionally, Romney's wife, Ann, and his five sons.

But the fact remains: Mitt Romney is the man running for president and has to make the case for himself. As the top of the ticket, he draws the most attention and news coverage. Holding more events means more coverage, which means more voters see Romney.

Having Romney campaign in person is particularly important now because he's trying to craft a more effective message. Romney has been under fire recently, especially from conservatives, for failing to give the public a clear picture of what he will do should he become president. Recently the campaign announced it is working to fill in the gaps in the message.

"We think the American people are looking forward to hearing how we can turn this economy around," top Romney adviser Ed Gillespie told reporters in what has to be one of the great understatements of the campaign. "The timing is right to reinforce the specifics, more specifics, about the Romney plan for a stronger middle class."

To many observers, Romney's moves look like scrambling. The campaign, having let Obama define Romney and keep him on the defensive during much of May and June and July, is still struggling to find itself. "The Democrats are fighting for their lives," says Caddell. "Republicans are acting like this is a garden party. There's a difference in mentality that I find stunning."

Now, Romney is battling a new distraction after media reports that some of his aides are sniping at one another, presenting a picture of discord in the campaign at a time when it needs to be running smoothly. "I've got a terrific campaign," Romney told Telemundo recently. "My senior campaign people work extraordinarily well together. I work well with them. Our campaign is doing well."

But not well enough, by any measure.

Romney aides say they expect to see him on the stump more as the election draws closer. By then, there will be fewer fundraising demands and Romney will concentrate fully on campaigning. But at less than 50 days away, with early voting starting in some places, the election is already pretty close. Where is Mitt right now?

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