A June/July Pew poll found that 62 percent of independents had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party, while 57 percent had an unfavorable view of the Democratic Party.
Romney campaign officials are confident that he can appeal to independent and undecided voters without turning off the partys base.
Gov. Romney has put forth a pro-growth plan that appeals to all voters, across party lines, said Amanda Henneberg, the campaigns deputy press secretary. Voters want to see our country move in the right direction again a direction of opportunity and prosperity and Gov. Romney offers a positive vision for all Americans.
But some conservative Republicans have warned that if Romney moves toward the center, he does so at his own peril.
Hes in the proverbial damned if you do, damned if you dont situation, said Judson Phillips, co-founder of Tea Party Nation, a tea party social Website. If he does, he opens himself up to being a bigger flip-flopper than John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee.
A Romney move to the middle also could give the Obama camp ample political ammunition, some of it supplied by former Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. During the primaries, the former Pennsylvania senator seized upon Romney campaign spokesman Eric Fehrnstroms analogy about how different Romneys general election campaign would be from the primary contests.
I think everything changes, Fehrnstrom said. Its almost like an Etch A Sketch. You kind of shake it up and restart all over again.
Every Democrat will be borrowing Rick Santorums Etch A Sketch and waving it at Romney, Phillips said. If Romney goes moderate, its a lose-lose scenario.
With the base of their parties fairly committed, both Romney and Obama are pursuing perhaps the smallest pool of undecided voters in the last three presidential election cycles.
A July McClatchy-Marist poll found that only 6 percent of the nations voters are undecided about a presidential candidate. And of the 94 percent of Americans whove chosen between Romney and Obama, only 5.5 percent said they may change their minds before Election Day.
The conservative base (doesnt) have to be appeased, theyre not going anywhere, McKinnon said. Obama is motivation enough for them to vote for Romney.
Bill Dal Col, who managed millionaire magazine publisher Steve Forbes 1996 Republican presidential campaign, disagrees. He believes the Romney-Ryan ticket is currently well-positioned and doesnt need to make an overt political shift to attract more voters.
I think they just need to get the message clearly out there that we need a new direction, said Dal Col, who hired a young Paul Ryan in 1993 as a writer/researcher when he was president of Empower America. They are, for the most part, center-right, not hard right. Theyre not extreme.
Still, Romney appears to be trying to balance between wooing the small sliver of undecided and independent voters and keeping his base energized.
For example, hes lowered the volume on his immigration stance since securing the nomination, downplaying his primary season vow to veto the DREAM Act if elected president, and highlighting his support for the military component of the act.