TAMPA — Republican pollster Whit Ayres and former Mississippi governor Haley Barbour held a briefing at the Republican National Convention this morning, giving reporters a meaty seminar on Resurgent Republic’s recent polling and their take more generally on the presidential race.

The bottom line: With a seven-point advantage in the sample (what Ayres calls a best-case scenario for President Obama), Obama’s message that we are moving “forward” is widely disbelieved by likely voters — rejected by a 54 percent to 39 margin among all voters, by a 54-40 margin in battleground states, and by 58 percent to 35 percent among independents. About two-thirds of likely voters think we are still in a recession.

Obama still does poorly on his handling of the economy, especially among independents (37 percent approve, 60 percent disapprove). Obama’s favorables (48 percent positive/49 percent negative) are only slightly better than Mitt Romney’s (44 percent/50 percent). Interestingly, Romney is ideologically much closer to the center-right electorate than is Obama.

Even on Medicare, the Romney-Ryan ticket is holding its own, with a majority approving a summary of the Romney-Ryan plan. Obamacare continues to be unpopular.

Barbour, who is among the best Republican political analysts, summed up the findings succinctly as to whether voters buy the “forward” message: “The American people don’t think that’s the case.” He also contends that they “see through the Mediscare” attacks and that with more information Republicans will do well on the issue. He observed that the choice of Paul “Ryan [as Romney’s running mate] wasn’t as risky as some people made it out to be.”

In the question-and-answer session, Ayres told me that if the electorate is split evenly among Democrats and Republicans, as it was in 2004 and 2010, “all the numbers move seven points” in Romney’s direction. That would give him a six-point lead nationally. With regard to gender, Ayres says there is a gap, but it is moderated by Romney’s ability to do well among married women. Moreover, the gender gap is largely a factor of race. Among white women (both married and single), Romney does very well; among African American women (married and unmarried), he trails overwhelmingly.

So why isn’t Romney doing better? Barbour put it in folksy terms: “Voters don’t know much about him.and have been told a lot of bad things. They think he’s a plutocrat married to a well-known equestrian.” He sees the Republican convention as a chance for Romney to show the voters who he really is.

As Barbour reminded us, at this stage in 1980 Ronald Reagan trailed Jimmy Carter by nine points. The challenge for Romney-Ryan, then, is not to persuade the public to dump Obama (they already think that), but to persuade them to trust him to turn around the country. In that regard, the convention is all about making Romney a positive alternative; the Democratic gathering is all about vilifying him. Neither party is trying to make the case that Obama has actually been a successful president.