While TV and print pundit are fussing over who won the second presidential debate and whether Candy Crowley has permanently damaged her reputation, the Romney camp is ebullient over the reaction of actual voters.
I frankly don’t think much of the Frank Luntz focus groups, which to my eye seem to be over-eager pundit wanna-be’s. Last night, the group seemed less “undecided” than Republican. But apparently the overwhelmingly positive reaction of the group was duplicated in the MSNBC focus and, Right Turn has learned, in a campaign focus group of undecided voters in Ohio.
A Republican insider with whom I spoke this morning told me that among the undecideds in the group in Ohio, the “ballot question” (i.e., who are you going to vote for) moved in Romney’s direction. He also said that Romney rated very highly on personal attributes, on “depth of answer” and the “are you better off?” take-down of Obama’s record.
The Obama team’s reaction to the debate, in particular its focus on Romney’s odd phrasing in answering a question on hiring women, has Republicans wondering if the testier Obama didn’t fall flat with female voters, among whom Obama has lost ground.
This was Romney’s answer about workplace inequality:
And — important topic and one which I learned a great deal about, particularly as I was serving as governor of my state, because I had the — the chance to pull together a Cabinet and all the applicants seemed to be men. And I — and I went to my staff, and I said, how come all the people for these jobs are — are all men?
They said, well, these are the people that have the qualifications. And I said, well, gosh, can’t we — can’t we find some — some women that are also qualified?
And — and so we — we took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, can you help us find folks? And I brought us whole binders full of — of women. I was proud of the fact that after I staffed my cabinet and my senior staff that the University of New York in Albany did a survey of all 50 states and concluded that mine had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America.
Now, one of the reasons I was able to get so many good women to be part of that team was because of our recruiting effort, but number two, because I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes they need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said, I can’t be here until 7:00 or 8:00 at night. I need to be able to get home at 5:00 so I can be there for — making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school. So we said, fine, let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.
His answer was one of the strongest of the night, and judging from the Obama team’s reaction, his record in hiring women may have gone over quite well. In the Obama team’s telling, however, the awkward phrasing of “binders full of women” is somehow insulting. (My own reaction was that it was a Romneyism, unintentionally — and harmlessly — suggesting he was flipping through pictures of women like a guy who signed up for a dating service. That image was so at odds with Romney’s intent and squeaky-clean image that it provoked some guffaws.)
As Mark Halperin tweeted, “Dem attempts to make this binder thing into a deal is . . . freakshow (and Ds know it). And/but they will find willing accomplices in much of MSM.” Precisely so.
Meanwhile, the Romney camp is buoyed by enthusiasm on the ground and movement in states that were not previously thought to be in play.
The most surprising state now in play is Pennsylvania, where Romney’s energy message has resonated. Recent polling is in single digits, with the most recent poll showing Obama up by only four points. A GOP pollster working on down-ticket races puts the margin at two to four points.
It would be historically anomalous but hardly impossible for Romney to carry Pennsylvania but not Ohio. The unemployment rate as of August (the most recent available) is nearly a point higher in Pennsylvania (8.1) than in Ohio (7.2). Moreover, the car bailout has resonated more strongly in Ohio, where 1 in 8 jobs is auto-industry-related. It is telling that the Obama camp is not ruling out a trip to Pennsylvania. Moreover, a GOP source tells me that Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter was out “spinning up” local Pennsylvania reporters. He said, “Now is the time to be locking up states. States should be ‘done’ by now. Here is a state that was ‘done’ [for Obama] and now isn’t.”
In addition, Wisconsin has moved back into the set of battleground states that are highly gettable for Romney. A Marquette University poll that will be out later today may confirm this. (A Marquette poll showed Obama ahead by 14 points in September.) Republicans acknowledge that there isn’t a history in Wisconsin of voting Republican for president, but they see the state as a fundamentally different after the 2010 U.S. Senate and gubernatorial wins and the successful effort to defeat the recall of Gov. Scott Walker (R).
In sum, we may be seeing a divergence between the pundit class (which would love nothing better than an Obama “comeback” story) and actual voters, who now have seen Romney deliver two strong debate performances. Time and polling will tell, but in the meantime watch where the candidates go; that’s more telling than what their campaigns say.