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.
That's the biggest decline since 2009.
But the most withering political indictment of Obama's failing economy came last week from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. No, the national news media didn't portray it that way, but for all intents and purposes, that's what it was.
Indeed, the thrust of Bernanke's remarks sounded like fatherly advice to voters to beware of Obama's flim-flam, campaign spiel that the job market is "moving in the right direction."
"The weak job market should concern every American. High unemployment imposes hardship on millions of people and it entails a tremendous waste of human skills and talents," Bernanke said.
"Five million Americans have been unemployed for more than six months, and millions more have left the labor force, many of them doubtless because they've given up on finding suitable work," he said.
The Fed's decision, for the third time in the last three years, is to buy each month $40 billion in mortgage bonds and $45 billion in Treasury bonds in an attempt to boost economic growth. Their first two stimulus efforts had little if any impact on the economy and economists do not expect that the Fed's latest move will be any different.
"Unfortunately, the Fed has already pulled all the levers that might make a difference," says University of Maryland economist Peter Morici.
Meantime, consumer and business spending have slowed, a sign that both remain troubled and pessimistic about the economy's declining growth. The Fed's decision to keep its interest rates at near zero for the next couple of years suggests they do not expect the Obama economy to improve until fiscal policies change.
And those policies are not going to dramatically change if Obama wins a second term. He has said as much in his campaign speeches in which he's called for raising taxes on investors and small businesses, despite the economy's weakness. And, despite his promise to protect the middle class, on middle income Americans, too.
Take, for example, the punitive taxes that some middle class Americans will pay under Obamacare: the mandate tax for those who do not want or cannot afford to buy insurance.
America runs on capital investment, the life blood of our economy. But Obama says he will raise the capital gains tax rate to 23.8 percent and the dividend top tax rate to a high of 43.4 percent (when the millionaires surcharge is factored in).
"Without offsetting changes elsewhere in the tax code, such tax increases would raise the cost of capital for business," according to an analysis in Investor's Business Daily.
You won't hear any of this on the network nightly news programs because they are in the bag for Obama. In the past year alone, it was a rarity to see any story on either of the three networks about the unemployment crisis, falling incomes and rising poverty rate.
Yet all is not lost. The latest New York Times/CBS News poll shows a "slim majority of likely voters still disapprove of how Mr. Obama has handled the economy and 7 in 10 rank the economy as fairly bad or very bad."
But this story isn't going to be told unless Romney tells it in hard-hitting campaign ads that slam Obama where he is the most vulnerable. There's still time for him to turn this election around, as he did for many troubled businesses over his successful, job- creating career.