Facing risks in the week before debate, Obama will address Arab turmoil at U.N. and Romney will seek to connect during his bus tour.
The presidential campaign hits the road next week, with the stakes particularly high for Mitt Romney as he strives to firm up his image before debates take over the following week.
Romney plans to try old-fashioned barnstorming Tuesday and Wednesday, with a four-city bus tour of swing state Ohio. While he's rambling across Interstate 71, President Obama plans to address the United Nations on Tuesday, in a speech that's likely to be aimed at a domestic audience as much as international.
The president is expected to discuss recent turmoil in the Arab region, pledging continued U.S. involvement as he insists on security for U.S. personnel. He's also likely to restate U.S. support for Israel and the need to contain Iran's nuclear program.
Obama also faces risks. The crises in Libya and Egypt raise questions about his handling of the Arab Spring uprisings, and the U.N. appearance could underscore the frosty relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Romney, though, faces the bigger domestic political challenge, if only because he's lagging in a key indicator of voter sentiment: Too many people don't like him.
'Running a corporate campaign'
A Pew Research Center survey conducted Sept. 12-16 found 45 percent viewed the former Massachusetts governor favorably, while 50 percent didn't. "No previous presidential candidate has been viewed more unfavorably than favorably at this point in a presidential campaign in Pew Research or Gallup September surveys" going back to 1988, a Pew analysis found.
The poll, echoing the findings of other recent surveys, had other sobering news for Romney: Despite his convention, an advertising barrage and a running mate embraced by party stalwarts, "Romney has gained no ground on Obama in being seen as more credible or more empathetic," Pew said.
Obama now has a 3-to-1 edge over Romney -- 66 to 23 percent -- as the candidate who better connects with ordinary people. "Romney's running a corporate campaign," said Craig Robinson, editor of the Iowa Republican magazine. "They don't have a personal touch with constituents. The president and vice president have been more accessible in Iowa than Romney."
Mid-September polls in virtually every swing state put Obama ahead, an important development, since the surveys reflect voter opinion after the two party conventions. Also hurting Romney was his criticism of Obama's foreign policy, as well as the video that surfaced last week in which he said that 47 percent of Americans believe they are "victims" who think government has a responsibility to "care for them."
Making a connection
No one is declaring the election over. Events can jolt a race instantly, and history shows debates make a difference. In the meantime, Romney has a week to stir some pre-debate momentum, and analysts see him with at least three tasks:
Be likeable. Romney keeps stumbling when he tries to be a "regular guy." In one recent attempt, he told "Live! With Kelly and Michael" that he was "kind of" a fan of "Jersey Shore's" Snooki, which gave comedians a new source of material.
Stress the economy. Polls show voters still think Romney can do as well a job reviving the economy as Obama. Romney needs to talk more broadly about his goals, said John Geer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.
Engage reluctant voters. This is risky, because Obama does much better with Americans not likely to vote, said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which studies such trends.
Romney needs a good pre-debate week, and the bus tour will be full of opportunity. But only if he gives voters reasons to go home and talk him up to their friends. "At the moment," said Republican consultant Chris DePino, based in New Haven, Conn., "there's a connection that's not being made."