TOPICS > Politics

Political Gap Widening, Romney Campaign Denies Shifting Message for Independents

September 10, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
New polls suggest that President Obama has taken a 7- to as high as a 13-point lead over his opponent, Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Judy Woodruff talks to The Rothenberg Political Report's Stu Rothenberg and USA Today's Susan Page for more on how the latest numbers are affecting campaign strategy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fifty-seven days and counting, that’s how the political calendar looked today for President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

With the conventions behind them, the candidates jockeyed for any advantage in a close race.

The president entered the final stretch of the campaign with a slight lead in the polls after the two-party conventions. But at the White House today, Press Secretary Jay Carney took the cautious view.

JAY CARNEY, White House: This is going to be a close race. It has been and will be. And the president is very focused on traveling around the country — coming out of the convention in Charlotte and traveling around the country as he did these last several days, explaining to the American people what his vision is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Hours earlier, the Obama reelection effort and the Democratic National Committee announced they hauled in $114 million last month. That was just enough to top the $111 million raised by Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee.

It was also the first time since April that the Democrats won the monthly money race. Romney campaigned in Mansfield, Ohio, today, hoping to make headway by hammering again at the president’s economic leadership after Friday’s weaker-than-expected jobs report.

MITT ROMNEY (R): Forward is his campaign slogan. I think forewarned is a better term.


MITT ROMNEY: We know what would happen if he were reelected. We’d see more years of high unemployment. We’d see more years of high unemployment. We’d see more years of massive deficits. We’d see more years of almost no wage growth in this country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At the same time, Romney aides denied he has begun moderating his tone to attract independent voters. The question arose after his appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Romney said he would keep certain parts of the president’s health care law, but still wants to repeal the overall statute.

MITT ROMNEY: I am not getting rid of all of health care reform, of course.

There are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I am going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage.

JUDY WOODRUFF: His campaign clarified he meant pre-existing conditions only for those who had kept continuous insurance coverage.

Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, also attacked the president for not offering much-needed tax relief. On ABC’s “This Week,” Ryan was pressed on the Romney plan to cut tax rates by 20 percent and pay for it in part by closing loopholes.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC News: Don’t voters have a right to know which loopholes you’re going to go after?

REP. PAUL RYAN, R-Wis.: Mitt Romney and I, based on our experience, think the best way to do this is to show the framework, show the outlines of these plans, and then to work with Congress to do this. That’s how you get things done.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Later in Florida, Mr. Obama said that answer did nothing to make sense of the tax proposal put forward by the Republicans.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Listen, you have got to do the math because, when my opponents were asked about it today, they couldn’t. It was like, two plus one equals five.


BARACK OBAMA: They couldn’t answer questions about how they would pay for $5 trillion in new tax cuts and $2 trillion in new defense spending without raising taxes on the middle class. That’s not bold leadership. That’s bad math.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The long-distance jousting resumed this week, with the candidates crisscrossing battleground states. Romney will be in Nevada and Florida. The president will hit Nevada and Colorado.

For more on what’s driving today’s developments, we turn to Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today, and Stuart Rothenberg of The Rothenberg Political Report and Roll Call newspaper.

It’s good to have you both back with us again.

STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg Political Report: Thanks.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Stu, where does this race stand right now with conventions over?

STUART ROTHENBERG: I’m not sure we know, Judy.

I think it depends whether we’re still seeing the bounce out of the Democratic Convention or whether this is the new normal.

You know, coming out of these events is almost the worst time to try to figure out exactly where the race is. I think two or three days from now, things will have settled down and we will know whether the president has added to his overall reputation and lead in the race. I think he is certainly better off now than he looked a week ago.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He did pick up a few points, the president did.

SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: He did.

I think, in fact, we have hit a turning point in the campaign. All the ads, all the news events for months and months failed to shake this race, essentially a tie. Now President Obama has a narrow lead, but a real lead in a series of polls, the Gallup poll, the Pew poll.

And I think that that indicates that his convention was pretty successful. Things can still happen. We have got these debates coming up. News events can happen. But I think that this has been — the conventions have had a real effect on this race.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The money that was announced, the president raised $114 million, Stu, last month, slightly beating Romney. Were you surprised? He hasn’t been able to do that for several months.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Sure. Sure, because Romney has been outraising him and seemed to have the financial momentum.

So, this is — look, Judy if Romney had outraised him $114 million to $111 million, instead of the reverse, it wouldn’t be a dramatic difference, but this adds to the overall impression I think of some momentum for the president’s campaign.

This, combined with the convention, combined with the poll numbers adds up to a feel-good moment, I think.

SUSAN PAGE: But let’s, before we move on from these numbers, think about how much money got raised in August — $226 million in August? That’s more than these candidates would have gotten for the whole campaign if they had stayed in public financing.

The amount of money being pumped into this campaign is something we have never seen before, with consequences that I think we have not entirely figured out.

STUART ROTHENBERG: And add to that how few swing voters there are, how few people are going to be influenced with all this money. It is amazing.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In fact, you see occasionally this. And people calculate and say maybe it’s just 50,000 voters or fewer who have the potential to be swayed by that much money.

SUSAN PAGE: The candidates should go door to door and just bring checks.



SUSAN PAGE: Because that would be less expensive than these ads we have got on all these swing state stations.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan, what do the campaigns need to focus on now coming out of these conventions? We know they’re going from swing state to swing state to swing state, but what about voter groups?

SUSAN PAGE: Well, I think the key voter group is white women. White women tend to be late deciders. White women, say, between 30 and 50, 55, a lot of them are married. A lot of them have kids, hard-hit by the recession and the slow recovery and late deciders.

So they are disproportionately represented in that dwindling group of persuadable voters who are left.

And I think you saw that at both conventions. I mean, who spoke from — in the prime-time hours? It was the spouses of the candidates. It was the women governors on the Republican side. It was the women senators on the Democratic side. Both parties, I think, telegraphed who it was they were trying to reach at the two conventions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you just saw we were just discussing the women standing behind President Obama. That’s never a coincidence.


STUART ROTHENBERG: No, no, that is very well planned.

No, I think Susan is exactly right, and particularly you’re talking about suburban women who may be cross-pressured. They may feel that the Democratic agenda on cultural issues is — they may be more comfortable with that. But in terms of jobs and the economy and income growth, they’re not satisfied with how the president has performed.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And why are they taking longer, Susan, to make up their minds?

SUSAN PAGE: Well, I think a lot of them have busy lives.

It’s stunning to us that some people are, like, sending their kids to summer camp and then getting them back to school or living their lives and not focusing on politics. A lot of them tuning in at this point in the election. That’s one reason the conventions matter.

And I think, as Stu was saying, they’re disappointed in President Obama, but they’re not yet sold on Mitt Romney.

And that’s the question for the 57 days going forward. Do they get convinced that, OK, I’m disappointed in Obama, but I trust him more? Do they get persuaded that Mitt Romney will look out for their interests?

STUART ROTHENBERG: And I would simply add that I think that the Obama campaign has done one thing particularly well over the past six weeks, couple of months. They kept the focus on the comparison between the president and Gov. Romney.

So the basis for making a discussion has been really comparing these two people. As we know, the Republicans wanted this to be a referendum on the economy. And I just think the Democrats have done a better job so far on this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about the attention? This came up again in this interview, “Meet the Press” interview with Gov. Romney over the weekend, where he was asked to explain what loopholes is he going to cut in order to make up the money that’s lost from the tax cuts. And he didn’t want to go in the specifics. And I guess neither has Congressman Ryan.

But how much do they really need to go into specifics?

SUSAN PAGE: I think they need to be providing more specifics than they are now, because they are making the story the fact that they have got a plan, but they don’t tell us how they’re going to get there.

If you just take what we know already, the numbers don’t add up. They talk about increasing revenues while reducing the tax rate. Well, you need to figure out how you’re going to do that. I think that especially in the debate, you know, the October 3 debate, which is focused on domestic and economic policy, the first one out, I’m assuming they’re going to get pressed, that Governor Romney will get pressed for some specifics.

And I think he probably will have to have them, or we’re going to hear from Barack Obama in that forum criticizing him for not.

STUART ROTHENBERG: But I think it’s interesting that here, September 10, we are discussing why there haven’t been details.

These kinds of things are usually established much earlier in the cycle with white papers and detailed proposals. And it is an odd time to be talking about details. But it appears to me that both — neither campaign, frankly, wants to discuss details. They’re very thematic.

For the Republicans, it’s simply about…

JUDY WOODRUFF: But why not?

STUART ROTHENBERG: I think they the details can alienate people, can turn off people. And they don’t want to do that.

You offer — you provide details, and the opposition can pick them apart. And that’s the environment we’re in, political environment we’re in.

SUSAN PAGE: But you provide details, and people get a sense that you have a plan…


SUSAN PAGE: … that if I elect you that you know what you’re going to do. I can see what you’re going to do. We can see if it’s going to work.

STUART ROTHENBERG: I agree. And I think that Romney too long has gone in front of crowds with — frankly, with platitudes, rather than details.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And just quickly, one detail he provided yesterday — at least he was more clear about it — is that he does want to keep part of health care reform. And that’s covering preexisting conditions, as long as these are folks who have continued to make their insurance payments. So…

SUSAN PAGE: So, you know, the words were actually not so different from the Republican primaries, because then he talked about repeal and replace Obamacare. But, boy, was the music different.


SUSAN PAGE: Because the whole emphasis now was on much more — appealing much more to independent voters who are friendlier to health care reform than those Republican primary voters who are really opposed to it.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Yes. I think, during the campaign, he did back himself a little bit in a corner, at least rhetorically, in terms of style and feel.

And I think he’s trying to move around a little bit. And it’s advisable that he do that. I think where he sounded like he was at the other day is a better position for him to be, rather than simply saying, get rid of it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fifty-seven days to go, and counting.

Stu Rothenberg, Susan Page, thank you both.

SUSAN PAGE: Thank you.