(CBS News) Back in the United States after last week's rocky foreign tour, Mitt Romney is heading to Colorado Thursday to kick the domestic campaign back into full gear, charging forward with its economic message amid lingering criticism of the candidate's trip abroad.
The presumptive Republican nominee's six-day, three-country trip, which was meant to exhibit his skills as a statesman, was riddled with gaffes and controversies. From comments questioning the U.K.'s preparedness to host the Olympics; to controversial remarks about the relationship between "culture" and economic success; to a scuffle between his traveling press secretary and reporters, Romney was ridiculed by the British media and skewered by Democrats.
"He certainly didn't prove to anyone that he passed the commander in chief test," said top Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs in a press call Tuesday, seizing on the controversies as evidence of the former Massachusetts governor's leadership deficit.
Despite his troubles, however, the lasting impact of his missteps are questionable: The notion that voters will still care about Romney's trip abroad come November is debatable, and the candidate, back on U.S. soil, is swiftly refocusing his message to reflect the talking points he's been hammering home for months.
"This election is all about jobs, economy, spending, and debt, jobs, economy, spending, and debt. Bad press in London means absolutely nothing," said Republican strategist Whit Ayres. "The president has been completely incapable of getting us out of the ditch. It's time to try something else, and that something else is Mitt Romney. Nothing about the trip last week changed that one iota."
With less than 100 days until the November elections, both Romney and Mr. Obama are doubling down on efforts to raise money and woo voters - particularly among independents and moderates in the handful of battleground states that could prove pivotal in deciding the election.
A new CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiacsuggests Romney has some ground to make up in that arena.
The survey, conducted from July 24-30, shows Mr. Obama leading his presumptive Republican challenger 53 percent to 42 percent in Pennsylvania, and with a six-point lead in Ohio and Florida.
Terry Nelson, a Republican strategist and former adviser to the George W. Bush and John McCain presidential campaigns, cited a dramatic imbalance in Obama vs. Romney campaign spending as a possible reason for those numbers. But as the Romney campaign begins a push into the final stretch of the campaign, he says, that will likely change.
"Going forward I think that disparity is less likely to manifest itself in that way," Nelson said. "As the Romney advertising effort ramps up and they're able to get more positive information out there about their candidate, that will help them alleviate those numbers."
Today, the Romney campaign begins the first leg of an apparent battleground-state offensive, heading to Colorado for a series of public events for the first time since the Aurora movie theater shooting. According to Politico, he will also attend at least one high-profile fundraiser in Aspen with major GOP donors.
Next week, the candidate will set off on a multi-state bus tour, stopping in Florida, Ohio and Virginia where, according to CNN, he'll be greeted by "prominent Republican officials and campaign surrogates" at stops along the way. Some have pointed to the tour as a prime opportunity for the candidate to announce his hotly-anticipated vice presidential pick, although that announcement could come at any point between now and when the Republican National Convention begins, on Aug. 27.
In the meantime, the campaign has already launched a series of efforts - op-eds by both Romney and vice presidential contender Sen. Rob Portman, and a new TV spot slamming the Obama administration for bailing out the auto industry - circling back to the campaign's steady hammering of the Obama administration's economic policies.
"This is not a complicated strategy. When you're in the challengers shoes in conditions like these, you could execute the strategy better or worse but the fundamental strategic direction is patently obvious," said Ayres. Any deviation from this strategy between now and November, Ayres argues, is unlikely.
"The fundamental strategy of making this a referendum on a failed presidency is not going to change nor should it change," he said. "It's the right strategy."
Still, the window leading up to the Republican National Convention represents an opportunity for Romney to hone his message and build momentum behind his campaign.
"The period they're in now is to try to build momentum leading up to the convention," said Nelson. "It will be the time when more Americans have the chance to hear what the Republican party stands for and wants to do, and more importantly, what governor Romney stands for and wants to do. Now is the period when the Romney campaign gets to lay the groundwork."
Making sure his message is heard, then, is imperative for the candidate.
"We're definitely getting into that final stretch of the campaign," said Nelson. "Governor Romney's going to have to use this period leading up to the convention to continue articulate to voters what the's going to do to put the country on a sounder economic path."