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Friday, August 10, 2012

Voices from the Battleground States


The latest batch of Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News polls show a tight race between President Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wisconsin and Virginia. Follow-up interviews with poll respondents offer a glimpse into how likely voters view both of the candidates.

On Mr. Romney's business experience:

Amy Burch, 36, an independent who is an environmental scientist from Melbourne, Fla.:

Romney's a businessman and he obviously ran successful businesses and turned industries around. So if you think of the government as a business, which most people probably don't, he'll be able to use his business sense to help turn the economy around. As businesses succeed, they grow and with growth jobs are created.

Magie Ward, 29, a Republican legislative aide in Columbus, Ohio, and a Romney supporter:

He was the head of a business that was very successful and that's sort of like operating on a smaller scale from being the head of a country whose economy needs improving.

Richard Kafonek, 50, an independent and a production planner for a manufacturing company in Shrewsbury, Pa.:

Because Romney has been involved in a business environment, he has more experience than Obama has with business operations and situations that involve decisions affecting profits and losses. I think that a person who wants to run an economy in a capitalistic environment, which America is based on, needs to have been exposed to a capitalistic business environment.

Mitch Wall, 67, an independent and a part-time real estate agent from Riverview, Fla.:

I think his experience as a governor gave him some insight into the roadblocks that government can put in the way of businesses and corporations. I also feel that his time at Bain, while somewhat controversial, gave him the knowledge and experience to understand from a business perceptive how to create economic growth, which also creates jobs for the middle class.

The Obama campaign has spent heavily this summer in an effort to define Mr. Romney as wealthy and out of touch with middle-class Americans. Other lines of attack focused on his connections to outsourcing at businesses owned by Bain Capital and his reluctance to release more than two years' worth of tax returns. Several respondents picked up on these themes.

Shawn Rolingher, 44, an independent who is a physician assistant from Golden, Colo.:

It's a trust issue with Romney. I'm not happy with how secretive he is being about the tax issue. There might not be any real reason he is not forthcoming except he just feels personally that he doesn't have to disclose anything, but I think if you're running for a public office you need to open yourself up more than he has.

John Ong, 84, an independent and retired driller and tree surgeon from Dunn, Wis. who is supporting Mr. Obama:

I don't trust Romney. He's for the one-percenters, as they call them. And the only jobs he created were over in India and China. He's trying to cover up and hide something about his taxes, because he doesn't want to release his tax returns. I think he's just for the rich.

Jen Kanchy, 20, a Democrat, Obama supporter and a student from Oxford, Ohio.

I feel like Obama cares about the people way more than Romney does. Romney says he wants to stabilize the economy, which would be good, but I feel he is more interested in profits and money. Barack speaks for the common people and he's actually trying to change things. I'm excited because this is my first time voting. I'm really pumped.

That level of enthusiasm for the president is not matched by some voters in these states.

John Underwood, 66, is an independent and a retired carpenter from Boscobel, Wis.:

If I had to choose between them, I would chose Romney, but I plan to write in Ron Paul. I think the two people running are just not working for us. At least Romney would be better for the economy because at least he has experience in the business world, whereas Obama was a community organizer and a senator for a short time. Romney would be more able to handle the economy.

Nita Cermak, 51, is an independent from Lagrange, Ohio, who works as a school bus driver (and drives a cement mixer during the summer). She said she voted for Mr. Obama in 2008, but is “not happy with him. I thought he would do more than what he has. What has he really accomplished?”

I'm not pleased with Romney either. I don't think he will do any better. I think the country is in so much trouble no one knows where to begin. I don't know if I'm voting for Romney but I'm definitely not voting for Obama. It's a possibility I may not vote and if that happens it'll be the first time I haven't voted since I was 18. And I'm a firm believer in voicing my opinions and voting. I wish we had more choices.

Ethel Beerer, 71, is a Democrat and a retired nurse from Olmsted Falls, Ohio, who says she's undecided this year.

Actually, I really don't know who I'm voting for. I've always voted Democrat, but I know the Republicans are against the health care bill. There's a chance I may not vote at all. I'm waiting until I've heard more clear cut ideas and discussed the issues with friends.

Mr. Obama gets mixed reviews on the economy from likely voters who say they're independents.

Darryl Perdue, 46, is an independent and a pipe fitter from Roanoke, Va.:

I'm voting for Obama because he's done a good job with the economy. He inherited a big mess. A lot of people have failed to realize that when he walked into office, the Dow Jones was down to 5,900 and it is now 12,000 and that's a good thing. He has created jobs. Maybe the economy has been slow but it is better than it was.

Glenn Drum, 66, is an independent and a retired hospital administrator from LaValle, Wis.:

I think Obama is on the right track in taxing the wealthy. They need to pay their fair share. That's a big factor for me, even if it's more anti-Romney than pro-Obama. I also feel that the economy is getting better. The unemployment rate has been dropping over the past year. New jobs are being created. I think Obama's fiscal programs are working, even if they're slow to come around.

Thomas Stephens, 70, is a retired tool-and-die maker from Studley, Va., who considers himself an independent.

I have negative feelings about Obama. He promised all this stuff. In my opinion he's probably the bigges t liar we ever had in office. He said he would change everything. Well, he changed everything but it was for the worse. I've been a Democrat all my life, a strong one. Bill Clinton was a good president. More people had jobs, more young people could afford houses, and if you had a 401(k) you made money.

Mary Cooper, 78, is an independent from Winchester, Va. The retired school kitchen manager said she will vote for Mr. Romney, but primarily because she opposes Mr. Obama.

Obama has done so many things that scare me. I feel that my freedom's been taken away.

Tales of Frustration in Selling a House


The subject of Paul Sullivan's Wealth Matters column this week is a man, Bob Fisher, who is trying to sell his house himself after two brokers were unable to sell two other properties he owns.

Sure, Mr. Fisher is a wealthy man trying to sell a large estate on a mountaintop in Highlands, N.C., for at least $18 million. But even people trying to sell much simpler homes for significantly less share his frustration with the real estate market.

Mr. Fisher has tried some of the techniques that worked for him in the business world, reaching out to people he knows who could afford his house and might be interested in such an estate. He has also created a network of people connected to the wealthy - everyone from Realtors to hair dressers - and offered a $250,000 finder's fee to the person who refers the eventual buyer. Still, no luck.

Have you tried to sell your home yourself? What did you learn from the process? And wha t advice could you give to others?

Romney Advisers Dismiss Recent Dip in Polls


BOSTON - Advisers to Mitt Romney on Friday dismissed a series of new national polls that showed their candidate's standing had weakened against President Obama, but they conceded that they could not explain what they called a “huge shift” in the numbers.

Determined to avoid perceptions that Mr. Romney's support is slipping, a senior adviser told members of the news media that there was no legitimate explanation for the swing in polls released by Fox News, Reuters/Ipsos and CNN over the past week.

The polls are an ill-timed distraction for the Romney campaign, which is beginning a four-day bus tour on Saturday across the swing states of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.

“Guys, it's the middle of the summer. It's the doldrums,” said the senior adviser, who asked not to be identified. “It's the middle of the Olympics. There has not been any national news, anything that would push these numbers from minus 3 to minus 9 points.”

“You've got to have something to precipitate that kind of sea change,” the adviser said. “The attitudes toward the economy, attitudes on right direction, wrong track haven't changed a bit. It hasn't changed; it is still the same as it was a month ago in terms of attitudes toward the economy.”

In a national Fox News poll conducted Sunday through Tuesday, Mr. Obama led Mr. Romney by 9 percentage points, 49 to 40. In July, a Fox News poll showed Mr. Obama with 45 percent to Mr. Romney's 41 percent - but that month-to-month change is within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, and it may not signify an erosion of support for Mr. Romney.

But since Mr. Romney solidified his status as the Republican candidate in late May, his numbers have remained fairly steady in Fox News polls, while Mr. Obama has seen an uptick of 6 points.

A nd independent voters in the recent Fox poll favored Mr. Obama by 11 percentage points â€" a jump from a 4-point lead a month ago.

A CNN/ORC poll conducted Tuesday and Wednesday found Mr. Obama with an advantage, 52 percent to 45 percent, a 7-point difference, which is within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4 points on each candidate.

In a briefing about the bus tour at Mr. Romney's campaign headquarters in Boston, the senior adviser batted away suggestions that the candidate was suffering from self-inflicted wounds.

Mr. Romney recently completed a high-profile trip abroad that featured several days of unwelcome headlines from Britain and Israel.

Nor did the adviser explore the potential role of Mr. Obama, whose campaign has pounded Mr. Romney in a torrent of negative commercials, especially in swing states, during the past few weeks.

“I don't know,” the adviser said when asked to explain the polling. He said that if the shift in polling were meaningful, it would show up in tracking polls conducts by groups like Gallup and Rasmussen. “And we are not seeing it there,” the adviser said.

The Gallup tracking poll for Aug. 3 to 9 had each candidate with 46 percent support among registered voters.

Already Viewed by Scores, Criticized \'Super PAC\' Ad Has Yet to Air as Paid Commercial


It is one of the most provocative ads of the presidential campaign so far. A former employee of a steel company that Bain Capital bought out tells how he and his cancer-stricken wife lost their health insurance after he was laid off. He all but blames Mitt Romney for her death.

The ad has been played repeatedly on the cable and network news since Priorities USA Action, the “super PAC” that produced it released it earlier this week.

One place it apparently hasn't appeared? During a commercial break.

According to Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, there are no instances of the ad ever running as a paid commercial. Kantar uses technology to trac k the appearance and frequency of political ads across the country. And so far their data show that the commercial has never aired on broadcast television or national cable.

Bill Burton, one of the founders of Priorities USA Action, acknowledged that the ad has indeed never aired. But all that free media attention has helped it chalk up it nearly half-a-million views online, according to YouTube.

More importantly for Mr. Burton and his super PAC, however, may be where the ad is being watched. Of the top five states where people are watching the ad, one is California - often in the top because of the size of the state. A reliably Democratic state in presidential elections, California is not a focus of either the Romney or Obama campaign.

But the other four are: Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia.

According to Mr. Burton, who said the ad will eventually run on television, it has been watched by 48,979 people in Flori da; 28,473 people in Pennsylvania; 23,739 people in Ohio and 22,887 people in Virginia.

Mr. Burton says the ad will eventually run on television. Until that happens, it will still have limited reach. But the controversy over the ad's premise may have provided millions of dollars in value for Mr. Burton's group.

It would hardly be a new trick for a campaign or political group to release a controversial ad that has little or no money behind it. They know the media is likely to devote extensive coverage to the commercial, giving it more exposure than an expensive ad buy could accomplish.

The Obama campaign attempted a similar trick with an attack ad featuring the same laid-off Bain employee, Joe Soptic. Mr. Soptic starred in a two-minute commercial that featured former workers of a steel mill in Kansas City, Mo. In one of the ad's more memorable lines, a worker likens Mr. Romney to a vampire, saying “He came in and sucked the life out of us.”

But th e Obama campaign put only $150,000 behind the ad. The ample attention it received on the news? Priceless.

A Campaign Staff Awaits the Unnamed No. 2


BOSTON - They say they have no idea whom they will be working for, but just as soon as Mitt Romney announces a running mate, 10 full-time staff members are ready to jump in to work for the No. 2.

They have prepared briefings on a full range of domestic and foreign policies, tailored to different styles for possible candidates: richly detailed or just-the-headline thoughts. With the date of the announcement a moving target, staff members update the planned roll out schedule for the candidate each day.

Last month the Romney campaign hired a director of operations for the vice-presidential candidate, Randy Bumps, a former political director for the Republican Senatorial Committee, and a communications d irector, Kevin Sheridan, a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee. It has since raided the office of Speaker John A. Boehner for a press secretary, Brendan Buck, and a policy expert, David Stewart.

The candidate is expected to spend a few days campaigning with Mr. Romney, then to chart a separate path.

As Mr. Romney begins a four-day bus trip on Saturday, speculation has ratcheted up over when the announcement will come. Will it be Saturday as he begins the trip, which takes him to the major media markets in four battleground states: Virginia, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio? Or is he allowing speculation to build and milking the attention for a few added days? In that case, will he announce on the final day, Tuesday? Or perhaps Wednesday?

Asked Friday for detail, Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser, said, “The governor keeps very close counsel,” adding he had “no guidance on that.”

The campaign say s more than 200,000 people have downloaded an official app, “Mitt's VP,” which promises to push out the news the moment it is official.

A member of the vice-presidential staff in waiting said he hoped he would learn the choice before then - but he did not sound entirely confident.

Friday Reading: The Destination of Your Health Insurance Refund


A variety of consumer-focused articles appears daily in The New York Times and on our blogs. Each weekday morning, we gather them together here so you can quickly scan the news that could hit you in your wallet.

Memo Outlines Democrats\' Convention Plans


Democrats will use the three-day Democratic National Convention next month to contrast President Obama with a portrayal of Mitt Romney as someone who would “devastate the American middle class,” according to a news report Friday.

A convention planning document obtained by Politico said the convention in Charlotte, N.C., would focus on the choice for middle-class voters in November by using “real people” to highlight the differences.

The document said the convention would “expose Mitt Romney as someone who doesn't understand middle-class challenges” while also burnishing “the president's image as someone whose life story is about fighting for middle-class Americans and those working to get into the middle class.”

The document also says the convention will feature several prominent Republican voices as a way of appealing to independent voters who will be critical to Mr. Obama's victory in the fal l, according to the report in Politico.

Aides to Mr. Obama confirmed the authenticity of the memo to The Caucus. But they said the document was several weeks old and that many of the plans could change substantially before delegates arrive in Charlotte at the beginning of September.

Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for Mr. Obama, declined to comment directly on the document but confirmed that it accurately described the overall message that the president wants to send while he formally accepts his nomination for a second term in the White House.

“A number of speaking programs are under consideration for the convention, and the only ones that are final are those that have been announced,” Mr. LaBolt said. “It's no secret that the convention will both present the president's vision and outline the choice that Americans will face in November.”

That has been the core of Mr. Obama's campaign for months, making it no surprise th at the convention would revolve around that theme. But the planning document offered new details about how the party might structure the message.

Among the details in the document, according to Politico:

* The president's daughters, Sasha, 11, and Malia, 14, may say a few words about their father at the convention.

* Each night, “real people” will appear to show the differences in the policies of Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney.

* The first lady, Michelle Obama, will give remarks about her husband's values and “what his north star is.”

* A “major Republican” or “notable G.O.P. woman” may be part of the convention on at least two of the nights.

Follow Michael D. Shear on Twitter at @shearm.

The Early Word: Happy Ending


In Today's Times:

  • A rare flop of an investment by Mitt Romney in Texas real estate had a happy ending for one couple, who borrowed money from Mr. Romney to buy their home in 1997, Mike McIntire reports.
  • Conservatives are publicly pressing Mr. Romney to pick Representative Paul D. Ryan to be his running mate, pushing for a vice-presidential candidate who can promote their fiscal position and demonstrate Mr. Romney's commitment to their agenda, Michael D. Shear and Trip Gabriel report.
  • A nasty House race in Florida pitting two Republican incumbents against each other has largely come to illustrate the differences between the two factions of the party: the old earmarking guard and the antispending Tea Party, Jennifer Steinhauer reports.
  • In preparation for hosting the Democratic National Convention, Charlotte, N.C., is steeling itself for all manner of protests, hiring extra law enforcement officers, building barriers and banning items from backpacks to water guns, Kim Severson reports.

Washington Happenings:

  • President Obama will host an annual dinner Friday in celebration of Ramadan.

National Polls Show Clear Advantage for Obama Among Independents


In the all-important struggle for independent voters, President Obama is opening some daylight over his Republican rival.

That is the message of two national polls released on Thursday. The polls show a clear advantage for the president over Mitt Romney after several difficult weeks for Mr. Romney, which included harsh attack advertisements, unfavorable publicity from a foreign trip and pressure to reveal more of his tax returns.

In a Fox News poll conducted Sunday through Tuesday, independent voters favored Mr. Obama by 11 percentage points, an upswing from a 4-point advantage Mr. Obama held last month.

A CNN/ORC poll conducted Tuesday and Wednesday found 52 percent of independents held an unfavorable view of Mr. Romney, up from 40 percent who viewed him unfavorably in May shortly after he nailed down the Republican primary race.

The Obama campaign and outside supporters have h ammered Mr. Romney in battleground states in ads directed at his career at Bain Capital. Even though fact-checking columnists have questioned many of the details, the overriding message seems to be hitting home with a crucial slice of voters who can still be persuaded.

There was some positive news for Mr. Romney: 56 percent of those who would vote for him say they “strongly support” him, up from 47 percent in May, a sign of growing enthusiasm that will be important in driving turnout.

Both polls are national in scope; recent surveys of some battleground states, the heart of the election competition, have shown a narrower race.

If the election were held today, the Fox poll found, Mr. Obama would win 49 percent of the popular vote to Mr. Romney's 40 percent; last month, Fox's poll results showed Mr. Obama with 45 percent of support to Mr. Romney's 41 percent.

The Fox News poll interviewed 930 registered voters by landline and cellphone, with a margi n of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The CNN/ORC poll interviewed 1,010 adults by landline and cellphone, which includes 911 registered voters, with a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for all adults and plus or minus 4 percentage points for registered voters.