Peter Hart, one of the sharpest Democratic pollsters out there, has put out a four-page memo on the state of the 2012 presidential campaign based on focus groups his firm conducted in Ohio—the most important of the swing states. He notes, "President Obama's debate performance did two things: it left these voters both stunned and mystified, and it has caused them to give Romney a second look." But Romney, he notes, hasn't completed the sale: "On the economic front, Romney may have the credentials, but he has yet to translate them into something these voters can grasp firmly. They know he has held the position and done the deals, but there are no specifics. People could talk about past candidates' specifics: McCain was a POW; Bush 43 had a legislative record of working with Democrats. There are no specifics for Romney—just a title."
This is not surprising stuff, but in this memo (reported by NBC News' First Read tip sheet) Hart did derive a characterization of Romney that seems dead-on:
The bottom line for Romney is that when voters are asked what relative he would be in their family, he ends up as the "step dad": no blood kin, but someone who accepts you only because he has to. He has never been able to close that emotional linkage with the voters. The question ahead of him is whether he can gain the respect and success labels that would give voters a reason to support him.
So is this the question for tonight's town hall debate and the rest of the campaign: can Romney demonstrate that he really does care about you? (And, yes, we mean you suburban, white women voters whom the pundits are fixated on.) This is, of course, where his 47-percent rant comes in. Can Romney convince the "kids" who overheard him say they are lazy no-goodniks that he really didn't mean it and that he truly does care for them? That may be one of the fundamental dynamics of the moment. Perhaps Romney should promise them a pony.
Oh, wait, he already did that in the first debate.