Focus group likes ads that go after Obama in a nice way

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Republican pollster Frank Luntz got together a group of deeply disaffected voters from around the Charlotte area Monday and several who voted for President Obama four years ago said they now intend to vote for Mitt Romney or are open to that possibility.

The group of 27 voters who met in a suburban office here seemed to tilt against President Obama more than the North Carolina populace as a whole. A new Elon University poll, released by the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer on Monday, gave Republican challenger Romney a slight 47% to 43% advantage over Obama.

The state went narrowly for Obama in 2008 but is judged to be one of the more difficult swing states for him to keep in his column this fall.

The feelings of the voters who met with Luntz seemed to confirm an opinion expressed last week by uber-Republican strategist Karl Rove: that anti-Obama ads should not be too harsh. Rove told a group of big GOP donors, in a meeting reported by Bloomberg, that the president remained tremendously popular with most Americans, who would not warm to overly-negative ad hits.

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Among the more popular ads presented to the focus group Monday were those that showed average voters saying they liked Obama personally but didn’t think his policies were working to restore the economy.

“It’s like your friend is talking to you and you are talking to them,” said one of the women in the focus group. “They weren’t being mean. They weren’t being nasty,” another woman said of other voters in the ad. “They were just telling what they thought.”

Testing strongly for Obama among the Democratic-leaning members of the group were two other ads. One featured President Clinton talking about the economy, and another described Romney’s plan to maintain tax cuts for higher income Americans while increasing taxes on middle-class Americans. (The middle class tax increase will be inevitable, according to a nonpartisan budget analysis, though Romney forces reject that finding.)

The most compelling sentiment that came out of the Luntz session was the economic anxiety that some Americans feel.

One woman talked about feeling “worthless, absolutely worthless” after being without a job for two years in middle age. Another woman, 37, worried about not being able to provide for a child with Down syndrome. A third, who had lost her job for four months, lives “every day” with fear of being unemployed again.

The dial-testing for Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican National Convention showed this small group of voters more positive about the actor-director’s talk to an empty chair than many pundits appear to be. Both Democratic- and Republican-leaning voters in the group rated Eastwood above a 50 throughout a couple snippets of his RNC remarks, which took a slap at Obama but told Americans that they “owned” the country.

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Last week’s Republican National Convention did not have a big impact on the group. Only about half a dozen of those in Luntz’s focus group said they saw both Mitt Romney and Paul D. Ryan speak at the convention and all of them strongly ranked Ryan as delivering a more powerful speech than his presidential ticket-mate.

Luntz, a frequent Fox News guest, said he thinks Romney will win if he can convince voters in three debates this fall that he is not a “bad guy.” He said the attributes of candidates always win over specific policy positions, and that political reporters pay too much attention to process and not enough to how voters view the candidates as people.

When the small group was asked to talk about the media, most used the word “biased.” The last woman added, “Biased and enjoying their wealth.” That provoked peals of laughter from the group.

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