Meet Mitt Romney’s new best friends: ex-Obama voters.
These ordinary, plainspoken people can make a better case for the Republican nominee than some of the prominent speakers on stage at the convention—and maybe even Romney himself. The campaign calls them “switchers,” and three of them are showcased in a video released by the Romney campaign. Obama-turned-Romney supporters are also starring in multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns broadcast by the Republican Jewish Coalition and Americans for Prosperity.
One of the most prominent switchers—former Democratic Rep. Artur Davis of Alabama—was a prime-time headliner on the convention stage on Tuesday.
What accounts for the newfound popularity of these switchers? Polls find widespread dissatisfaction with the president’s leadership on the economy, but they also show a reservoir of goodwill toward him. Many Obama voters in 2008 were casting ballots for the first time and proud to be making history by electing the first African-American president. Hard-edged attack ads are not necessarily going to work with them.
“There are times you want a soft sell and times when you need a two-by-four. This is a soft-sell message,” said Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We’re trying to appeal to the folks in the middle, and we didn’t think that browbeating them was the effective way to do that.”
In an age of reality television, the real voters starring in these ads can be more compelling than commercial actors. They seem to be speaking from the heart instead of scripts. And they are a potential antidote to the personal stories of disgruntled former workers and abortion-rights supporters in anti-Romney television ads run by the Obama campaign and the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action super PAC.
The gentler approach favored by switchers was also apparent in a Republican National Committee spot in Virginia in which a narrator says, “He tried. You tried. It’s OK to make a change.” It’s a message that’s designed to comfort voters instead of lecture them.
One of the switchers showcased in the Tuesday night convention video was 51-year-old Debbie Smith of Des Moines, Iowa. A first-time caucus-goer in 2008, she attended Obama campaign rallies, wrote two checks, and bought a T-shirt. “I was pretty much hooked on his message,” she said in a telephone interview on Tuesday with Convention Daily. But the showdown between Obama and congressional Republicans over the budget one year ago turned her off, and she and her husband have had to let go of half of the employees of their small business. The sluggish economy also forced them to sell a vacation home in northern Iowa and their boat.
“It was a lesson to our kids that we couldn’t live beyond our means, and I wish the government would do the same,” she said. “When you hire a new CEO like we did with Obama, after a certain amount of time, you can longer blame the previous CEO.”
A Gallup Poll this month found 86 percent of voters who backed Obama in 2008 backing him again this year. The Romney campaign points to polling that shows a more significant drop-off. In a new ABC News/Washington Post poll that found the race tied, only 78 percent of the people who voted for Obama in 2008 said they would back him in 2012; 14 percent said they would switch to Romney. Voters such as those could make the difference in the handful of swing states that will determine the election’s outcome.
“The key number is that more than one out of five Obama voters are not on board,” said Romney pollster Neil Newhouse. “It speaks to the challenges faced by the Obama campaign as it tries to put the band back together again.”
But where the Romney campaign sees scorned Obama voters, the Obama campaign sees another kind of convert. Priorities USA’s latest spot running in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, and Virginia features Olive Chase, an independent voter who backed Romney when he was elected governor of Massachusetts.
“I feel like I was duped by Mitt Romney,” she says. “I’m going to vote for President Obama.”
This article appears in the August 29, 2012, edition of NJ Convention Daily.