Independents are abandoning Romney (or not)

at 09:42 PM ET, 04/04/2012

New numbers from a USA Today/Gallup poll of 12 swing states suggests that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is quickly losing support among independent voters — a voting bloc considered the crown jewel of the 2012 election.

Romney’s number in Gallup polling has dropped 10 points among independents since last fall, while President Obama’s number is up by nearly that same amount during the same time frame.

Romney’s struggles among independents are due almost entirely to the fact that independent women, who were voting for him over Obama by 5 points last fall, now favor the Democratic incumbent by a 51 percent-to-37 percent margin.

Open and shut case, right? Well, that depends on which side of the partisan aisle you sit.

Democrats immediately moved to cast the Gallup numbers as the latest sign that the Republican presidential primary race — and its focus in recent months on contraception and women’s rights — has damaged Romney’s brand among independents and, in particular, independent women.

“Romney is in the midst of the perfect storm: He is being tied down by negative perceptions of a GOP that has been further damaged by the contraception controversy,” said Democratic pollster Fred Yang. “His attempts to shake himself free of the GOP is being hampered because, well, Romney’s image is the most polarizing among voters for a presidential candidate at this stage of the election in nearly 20 years.”

Even the most optimistic Republican strategists acknowledge that the extended national debate on things like contraception and “transvaginal ultrasounds” has not been a good thing for their party because they have taken the spotlight off of Obama and his handling of the national economy.

“There has been increased focus on social issues not just from Romney or (former Pennsylvania senator Rick) Santorum but in individual states,” said Republican pollster Linda DiVall. “When the focus returns to economic issues and (the) contrast between Obama and Romney’s vision for the country, the gap will indeed narrow.”

Some Republicans also take issue with the Gallup survey — suggesting that the sample size of 371 independents across twelve states is far too small to draw overly broad conclusions about the results. (Worth noting: The Gallup result is above the Post’s internal polling guidelines for producing reputable results from subgroups.)

Wonky poll debate aside — and we love us a good nerdy poll debate about sample sizes — it’s clear that, even though Romney is now the near-certain Republican presidential nominee, he has sustained damage (much of it not his own doing) in the process of getting to this point in the process.

That’s not altogether surprising. The nature of the presidential race is that candidates court their bases to win the primary and then slide to the middle to appeal to independents in the general election.

But as Romney begins to shake off his primary opponents and focus full time on the general election, mission No. 1 must be improving his standing among independents — and, in particular, independent women.

White House says Obama wasn’t intimidating Supreme Court: The White House clarified Wednesday that Obama was not trying to intimidate the Supreme Court when he said this week that it would be unusual for the court to overturn a congressional law.

“I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress,” Obama said at a press conference Monday. “And I’d just remind conservative commentators that, for years, what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint, that an unelected group of people would somehow overturn a duly constituted and passed law.”

The comments came under criticism from conservatives, as well as Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus.

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Obama wasn’t sending a message to the nation’s highest court.

“He certainly was not contending that the Supreme Court doesn’t have, as its right and responsibility, the ability to overturn laws passed by Congress as unconstitutional,” Carney said. “He was referring to 85 years of judicial precedent, of Supreme Court precedent, with regard to matters like the one under consideration. And it’s maybe fun to pretend he meant otherwise. But everyone here knows that’s what he meant.”

Fixbits:

Santorum and Newt Gingrich will attend the New York GOP’s big April 19 dinner, featuring Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).

Herman Cain wants Romney to pick a vice presidential running mate with pizzazz. (Translation: ‘Pick me!’)

Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson says current New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) would be a “Palin-esque” vice presidential pick.

Tim Kaine releases his economic plan.

Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who is running for Senate and didn’t vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget, dismisses it as a “joke.” Apparently he didn’t learn the lesson Newt Gingrich learned last year; and Mack’s primary opponent, former senator George LeMieux, is attacking him for it.

Speaking of jokes, New Jersey Democrats lash out at the New York Post for its story full of fat jokes about Gov. Chris Christie (R).

Republican Missouri governor candidate Dave Spence drops another $250,000 into his campaign account, bringing his total self-funding to $2.25 million.

Obama signs a ban on insider trading in Congress.

A Voter ID amendment will be on the ballot in Minnesota this year.

Speaking of the great state of Minnesota, Vice President Biden is going there to raise money for Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) is ready for a tough reelection bid in his newly competitive district; he raised $532,000 in the first quarter.

The liberal CREDO super PAC is targeting Reps. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.).

Must-reads:

Tired of Topsy-Turvy Politics? You May Enjoy the General Election” — John Harwood, New York Times

Romney speech points toward broader terrain for 2012 fight” — Michael O’Brien, MSNBC

Santorum’s surprising ride” — Mark Murray, MSNBC

Democrats make headway in push for transparency on ‘issue ads’” — T.W. Farnam, Washington Post

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