The situation facing Romney is hard for some Republicans to comprehend. They didn't buy Obama's bill of goods in the first place and find it hard to sympathize with anyone who did. But there are millions of people who voted for Obama who are not only disappointed in him but have come to the conclusion that he does not deserve to be re-elected. The problem for Romney is they might still be persuaded to vote for the president. Making them comfortable with the idea of leaving Obama is Romney's job.
Romney campaign advisers are very, very familiar with the type. They do polling, they do focus groups and they see the phenomenon everywhere. Says campaign pollster Neil Newhouse: "These voters are my mother-in-law. She's a soft Republican and voted with pride for Barack Obama in terms of what it meant for the country. And now, every time she talks to me, she's more than disappointed. She's frustrated. She's upset. She thought she was voting for a transformational leader and feels like we got just another politician." You can bet Newhouse and the Romney campaign are not basing their strategy on one mother-in-law. They're undoubtedly seeing the same thing all the time in their research.
The important thing for Romney, aides believe, is not to rub the voters' noses in their decision from four years ago. Don't bash Obama, don't even harp on how he's not up to the job -- that carries the implication they should have known that when they voted for him. Just focus on the point that his policies have not made things better. "You've got to be careful in terms of how you talk about the president," says a top Romney campaign aide. "It's his policies and performance voters are concerned about -- that's the focus."
On the afternoon before the Democratic convention began in Charlotte, political messaging guru Frank Luntz convened a focus group in a local office park. He gathered 27 voters, 24 of whom had voted for Obama in 2008. Some were sticking with the president, but a larger number were undecided, and a few had already jumped to Romney. Luntz played some campaign commercials for them.