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Obama Honors National Teacher of the Year

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May 3, 2011, 9:31 a.m.

A Fox News poll; con­duc­ted 10/9 by Pulse Opin­ion Re­search (IVR); sur­veyed 1,000 LVs; mar­gin of er­ror +/- 3.1% (re­lease, 10/12). Party ID break­down: 46%D, 35%R, 19%I.

Obama As POTUS

- All Dem GOP Ind Men Wom 9/18 Ap­prove 48% 79% 13% 38% 44% 51% 45% Dis­ap­prove 45 15 81 49 49 41 46

(For more from this poll, please see today’s DE SEN story.)

Pun­dits. Ana­lysts. His­tor­i­ans. Polit­ic­al sci­ent­ists. The land­scape is lousy with them this elec­tion year, and I love talk­ing with them.

But in our PBS News­Hour polit­ic­al cov­er­age this year, we are mak­ing a spe­cial com­mit­ment to seek out the opin­ions of the people who ac­tu­ally cast the votes. And in each of the con­tests we have covered so far, we have found they do not dis­ap­point.

“[Mitt] Rom­ney, I mean. He’s a nice guy,” Vic­tor­ia Nwasike told Judy Wood­ruff in Iowa. “He’s pol­ished. He’s back for a second time around, you know, but he’s just not the per­son who I would get up in a snowstorm to vote for.”

That was less than a month ago. Now, as Rom­ney struggles to re­claim the mantle of in­ev­it­ab­il­ity that once seemed as­sured, her words seem pres­ci­ent.

Time and again, while re­view­ing the tran­scripts of con­ver­sa­tions Judy and I have held with voters in Iowa, New Hamp­shire, and South Car­o­lina, I have real­ized that the voters have been a step ahead of us all along.

In New Hamp­shire, I met Debi Rapson, a dis­en­chanted Obama voter who planned to vote Re­pub­lic­an this time. But she wor­ried that Rom­ney seemed out of touch with people like her who see their re­tire­ment sav­ings drain­ing away.

“Some­body asked him in one of the town hall meet­ings about how middle Amer­ica is go­ing to get back to hav­ing a life,” she told me. “And he said, yes, you know, I’m really wor­ried about my in­vest­ments too. Hello? Middle Amer­ica doesn’t have any in­vest­ments any­more!”

Talk­ing to these voters has ad­ded real heft to our cov­er­age this year. I am con­stantly re­minded how darned smart voters are, and how they are al­most al­ways ahead of the polls and the pun­dits.


Gwen Ifill in­ter­view­ing voters in New Hamp­shire. (PBS News­Hour)

I was hanging around the edges of a Newt Gin­grich rally in Beaufort, S.C., last week on the day the polit­ic­al world was quak­ing with Rick Perry’s exit, Rick San­tor­um’s be­latedly con­firmed Iowa win, and new re­ports that Mari­anne Gin­grich was un­load­ing on her ex.

The voters I chat­ted with were well aware that Gin­grich had his is­sues, but they were look­ing for op­tions. “I think he gen­er­ates a good bit of chem­istry with people, but he’s got a little bit of lug­gage” Jerry Wheeles, a Myrtle Beach busi­ness­man, told me, adding with a chuckle: “I do too, of course.”

Exit polls three days later showed that most South Car­o­lina voters were like Wheeles. They in­tern­al­ized Gin­grich’s short­com­ings, eval­u­ated the al­tern­at­ives, and de­cided to vote for him any­way.

Most of the en­gaged voters we’ve talked to, in fact, are act­ively en­gaged in weigh­ing the pros and cons of their choices.

“I have got one vote,” New Hamp­shire Re­pub­lic­an Don Byrne told us just be­fore the primary there. “Do I vote stra­tegic­ally for the per­son who I think could beat the pres­id­ent? Do I vote tac­tic­ally for the per­son who I think rep­res­ents my views?”

“To me, Mitt Rom­ney is the status quo in the Re­pub­lic­an party,” Re­pub­lic­an B.J. McLaugh­lin told Judy in Iowa. “And I think a lot of us — I don’t know how many of us are tea parti­ers or liber­tari­ans — we’re dis­sat­is­fied with the status quo of the Re­pub­lic­an party.”

As Flor­ida Re­pub­lic­ans pre­pare to go to the polls on Tues­day, the battle roy­al between Rom­ney and Gin­grich has in­deed be­come a de­fin­ing one. Gin­grich casts him­self as the reneg­ade, the big-think­ing out­sider who is best suited to take on the status-quo es­tab­lish­ment.

Mean­while, in try­ing to weak­en Gin­grich, Rom­ney has em­braced his stand­ing as the es­tab­lish­ment’s choice — rolling out en­dorse­ment after en­dorse­ment from elec­ted of­fi­cials and main­stream Re­pub­lic­ans who have been watch­ing the Gin­grich surge with dread.

I would tell you what those folks have to say, but you can find that any­where. Judy and I have been hav­ing far more luck talk­ing to folks you’ve prob­ably nev­er heard of — like Ann Ubel­is of the Beaufort, S.C., arm of the tea party.


Gwen Ifill with Ann Ubel­is of the Beaufort, S.C., tea party. (PBS News­Hour)

“No com­prom­ise, no sur­render,” she told me when I asked if, in the end, she would just choose the most elect­able can­did­ate. “You go for your true prin­ciple. You vote on prin­ciple. And what shakes out in the end, then, I’m sorry, you are go­ing to hold your nose and you’re go­ing to vote for the Re­pub­lic­an nom­in­ee.”

The next test of my voters-in-the-drivers’-seat the­ory: Flor­ida, Flor­ida, Flor­ida.

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