Gwen’s Take: Why Is Anybody Still Undecided?

BY Gwen Ifill  October 12, 2012 at 8:00 AM EDT

Watching FRONTLINE’S “The Choice 2012” this week, I was reminded how drastically different the 2012 candidates for president are.

One is the well-heeled scion of a prosperous and deeply religious family. The other is the son of a fleetingly present mother and an entirely absent father. One can trace his roots unerringly through the generations. The other comes from a mixed bag of heritage – mother from Kansas, father from Kenya, raised in Indonesia and Hawaii.

Mitt Romney met his wife when she was 15 and married her four years later after taking a break for missionary work. Barack Obama met his wife in Chicago – the latest in a series of adopted home towns – after both were already pursuing careers as lawyers.

The differences continue. Career choice. Political world view. So I keep wondering – why is choosing between them so difficult?

One thing to remember is that for the vast majority of Americans, it is not difficult at all. And then I met Maura Fletcher at an apple cider festival in Lakewood, Colorado last weekend while reporting for the PBS NewsHour.

She and her husband run a small chiropractic business and are parents to an 11-month-old son. Neither is a native Coloradan, but they moved there for the chance to start over in a new place. Four years ago, they weren’t even living in the U.S.

So she is still trying to decide who to vote for, just not yet. “Nothing happens without a deadline, right?” she said, laughing.

Fletcher dutifully watched the first debate. She decided she liked Governor Romney’s approach to business. And she liked President Obama’s stance on issues like reproductive rights.

I pressed her. Which approach would carry more weight for her?

“The women’s issues versus the business? I can’t put a weight on that,” she replied. “Small business is our livelihood. It’s what provides for my husband and I and my son. And the women’s issues– I’m a gentle feminist– so I can’t say one would out weigh the other.”

Her indecision matters because the president, the governor and scores of candidates down ballot are counting on voters like Fletcher – young, white, female — to tip the balance in coming weeks.

It’s why Arizona Congressman Jeff Flake, who’s running for Senate, is airing a new ad in which a female former Federal official accuses his opponent, Democrat Richard Carmona, of lacking respect for women like her. (She was his boss when he was U.S. Surgeon General.)

It’s why Senator Claire McCaskill stepped up her attacks on Missouri challenger Todd Akin this week by airing ads in which women who were victims of rape say they would never vote for a man who once suggested that some sexual assaults are not legitimate.

And it’s why Romney spent part of his week disentangling himself from comments he made to the Des Moines Register about his stance on abortion.

“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” he said. The curiously vague construct alarmed conservatives and almost immediately forced Romney to clarify. “I’m a pro-life candidate,” Romney said at an Ohio campaign stop. “I’ll be a pro-life president.”

The Obama campaign does not have to walk that particular tightrope, but it is still pitching heavily to women voters.

There is some trickle down, especially in races like the Massachusetts and Nebraska Senate races, where female nominees – one Democrat, one Republican – are working to break out.

Even farther down ballot, where candidates like Colorado State Senator Evie Hudak, a Democrat running for reelection to her suburban Denver district, is trying to bridge the gap. “Republican women do tend to be pro-choice,” she said. “And the Republican party tends NOT to be pro-choice. So that’s why a lot of Republican women are maybe willing to vote for a Democratic woman. Especially if she’s running against a Republican man.”

But Republican women who oppose abortion say that will not necessarily be the issue that drives their decisions. “I think the majority of women in Jefferson County and Arapahoe County are seeing it more broadly,” Judy Merkel, a Romney volunteer in Colorado, told me. “I think we’ve moved on. We can’t have our social issues if we don’t have leadership, and we get our economy back on track.”

Do not despair if you are male, or black or Hispanic. The candidates are pitching to you too. But in a knife’s edge election, it’s fair to say you might have to take a back seat – for awhile. But, trust me, as the candidates try to get their supporters to the polls, you can be sure they are coming for you too.