The terminology might seem drily academic, but it’s actually a big deal: The Romney campaign has more or less officially conceded that the election represents a “choice” rather than a “referendum.”

Ed Gillespie, senior adviser to the Romney campaign, writes in a publicly released “memorandum”:

This election is a choice. And the simple fact is, we can’t afford four more years of Obama’s failed policies [italics mine]. This is not what a real recovery looks like.  A real recovery would result in 12 million new jobs, as the Romney Plan will.  A real recovery would unleash more domestic energy, as the Romney Plan will.  A real recovery would make it easier for small businesses to open and expand, as the Romney Plan will.

This means that, just 44 days out from the election, the Romney campaign is going to try to frame the election in way that it had not planned to for the last 18 months. The lousy economy, and the perception that Romney was competent enough to turn it around, was supposed to be enough. But Romney and co. no longer believe that’s the case.

On Sunday, Bill Kristol — a frequent critic, but hardly a foe, of Romney’s — artfully massaged this fundamental shift in strategy. He said Romney has “got to make it a referendum on the choice of the next four years, and explain what Obama would do over the next four years that would be bad for the country, and what he would do that would be good for the country.”

“A referendum on the choice” — got that?

In an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes that aired Sunday, Romney put the best possible spin on the race as it stands now: “We’ve got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president to the United States.” Depending on one’s definition of “tied,” that’s true as far as it goes.

Much can happen between now and November. But if six months ago you had told Obama aides David Axelrod and Jim Messina that the Republican challenger would be saying that, despite 8 percent unemployment and stagnant growth, the election would be fought over ideology, I imagine they’d have been confident about the outcome of such an election.

This is a “turnaround,” all right — just not the one Mitt Romney imagined.