By Steve Peoples and Jim Kuhnhenn Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney heads to Colorado on Sunday, the first stop in what advisers call an “intense battleground state schedule” aimed at countering GOP criticism that his campaign is mismanaged and misdirected.
The former Massachusetts governor will have the stage to himself in a state that will help decide the presidential contest. President Barack Obama was expected to be in Washington and had no official business or campaign activity scheduled.
For Romney, an evening rally at a Denver-area high school represents his first public event of the weekend. With the election less than seven weeks away, the Republican candidate is facing pressure to spend less time raising money and more time explaining his plans to voters in swing states.
He plans to do that beginning with the Colorado rally. Romney then launches a three-day bus tour in Ohio on Monday followed by a stop in Virginia — all states Obama won in 2008 and held by Republicans four years earlier.
The schedule shift comes in the last full week before the presidential debates move the campaign into a new phase — one which Romney advisers suggest could prove pivotal following several weeks marked by negative attention, missteps and Republican concerns.
Already facing reports of internal finger-pointing and foreign policy questions, Romney suffered another setback last week when a secretly recorded video surfaced showing the Republican standard bearer declaring that almost half of Americans are dependent upon government and see themselves as victims.
On Friday, he released his 2011 tax returns showing income of $13.6 million, largely from investment income.
In an interview set to air Sunday night, Romney told CBS’ “60 Minutes” that his campaign is moving in the right direction.
“It doesn’t need a turnaround. We’ve got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president to the United States,” Romney says, according to remarks released in advance by CBS.
While national polls remain tight, polls in several swing states — Colorado among them — suggest that Obama has opened narrow leads in the states that matter most. Obama won Colorado by 9 points four years ago, but the state went to a Republican in the previous three presidential elections.
Romney spent much of his weekend in high-dollar fundraisers in southern California, a state held by Democrats for nearly a quarter century. As the Republican courted wealthy donors at the Beverly Hills Hilton on Saturday, Obama worked to squash GOP hopes for a resurgence in Wisconsin, where the president assailed Romney’s economic approach before an energized gathering of 18,000, Obama’s biggest crowd of the campaign.
Obama faulted Romney for advancing a top-down economic approach that “never works.”
“The country doesn’t succeed when only the folks at the very top are doing well,” Obama told the massive crowd. “We succeed when the middle class is doing well.”
In Beverly Hills, Romney raised $6 million at a Saturday evening fundraiser that attracted celebrities Dennis Miller and Gary Sinise. Before a group of more than 1,000 California Republicans, Romney kept up his criticism of the president for fostering a culture of dependency.
“This is a tough time. These are our brothers and sisters. These are not statistics. These are people,” Romney declared. “The president’s policies — these big-government, big-tax monolithic policies — are not working.”
Obama, too, looked to celebrities to help raise cash to continue bankrolling the deluge of ads already saturating hotly contested states.
Baseball great Hank Aaron supplied the star power at Obama’s Milwaukee fundraisers.
“As one who wore the number 44 on his back for decades, I ask you to join me in helping the 44th president of the United States hit a grand slam,” said Aaron.
But Obama’s schedule has focused more on voters than donors in recent weeks. The president’s campaign says Obama attended seven fundraisers and 14 public events since the day after the Democratic National Convention two weeks ago.
Over the last week alone, Romney has attended five public events — including three rallies — and more than a dozen fundraisers.
Romney adviser Kevin Madden defended the fundraising focus, while highlighting a shift toward swing states in the coming days
“We’re here raising the resources we’re going to need to compete in all those battleground states through Election Day,” Madden said. “That’s also been matched with a really intense battle ground state schedule that’s going to be coming up starting Sunday night. We’re keeping very busy.”
But conservative worry remains.
“The Romney campaign has to get turned around. This week I called it incompetent, but only because I was being polite. I really meant `rolling calamity,”’ Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, a former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, wrote late last week.
Speaking at the Beverly Hills Hilton, Romney’s California finance committee chairman Thomas Tellefsen sought to reassure supporters.
“I wanted to share some thoughts with you tonight. They can provide you some comfort. Polls are not elections. The voters have not yet spoken,” Tellefsen said.
Meanwhile, Obama made the case against Romney in Milwaukee, countering Romney’s call to change Washington from the inside with an appeal to voters to help him break through partisan gridlock with pressure on Congress from the outside. He said that despite economic troubles, his administration has made progress and has made “practical and specific” proposals to create jobs.
“We’ve seen half a million new jobs in manufacturing, the fastest pace since the 1990s,” he said. “And so the choice now is, do we reverse that progress or do we move forward?”