By MIKE ALLEN and JIM VANDEHEI | 10/4/12 9:03 PM EDT –
Mitt Romney, for 90 short minutes Wednesday, transformed himself into a confident, clear-thinking champion of the average Joe. His ability to turn one winning performance into a winning campaign comes down to this: Sustain and complete the Romney Reinvention Project.
In the afterglow of the Denver duel, top campaign advisers said Thursday that the reinvention efforts will include forthcoming ads featuring clips from Romney’s much-praised debate performance, and the increased behind-the-scenes role of two close confidants — Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who played President Barack Obama in debate prep, and oldest son Tagg Romney, who has subtly taken a more active role in the selling of a more likable version of his dad.
“One night doesn’t transform the race, but the next three to five days can,” a Romney campaign official said. “We just have to stick to our plan and not chase all the rabbits David Axelrod is going to throw out.”
Throughout the debate, Mitt Romney was the cool candidate — crisp in his vision and sincere about his capacity to protect the middle class and jobless. He was the Romney his friends have long described but the public has rarely seen. But the question now is how to sustain that performance against a ferociously competitive president whose campaign has done a superior job with ads and speeches at tearing apart Romney’s policies and public image.