Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 9:57 am | Overcast 63º


Mark Shields: From Wisconsin, Little Good News for Obama or Romney

Female focus group reveals that both presidential candidates leave a lot to be desired

Here was one hypothetical question put to 12 white Milwaukee-area women voters during a two-hour-plus focus group sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania on a Tuesday night in August: To qualify for the time-saving HOV lane for a 90-minute car trip, you must choose as your passenger either President Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Who’s your choice?

To college administrator Jody Wamser, 55, Obama would be “more interesting to talk to, more relaxing.” Michelle Tina Wilke, 38, an electrical wirer, picked the “friendlier” Obama. And 24-year-old Suzy Schreiber, a retail clerk, predicted a “more fun” trip with Obama.

In fact, all 12 women unanimously told the man conducting the focus group, respected Democratic pollster Peter Hart, that they preferred to carpool with Obama rather than Romney. That’s the good news for the incumbent Democrat. The not-so-good news for Obama is that none of the three women quoted above — each of whom voted for him in 2008 — is now committed to voting to re-elect him on Nov. 6.

Maine Republican Bill Cohen, who never lost an election for City Council, Congress or the U.S. Senate, once explained: “I don’t care how great your ideas are, how well you can articulate them. People must like you before they will vote for you.” Among these dozen Wisconsin voters, liking is not enough. Ten of the 12 voted for Obama in 2008, but just four are now willing to say they will do so again.

It is not that Romney has won their hearts and minds. He remains, even after his popular-in-the-room choice of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as his running mate, an excessively secretive, aloof, even elitist figure best known for his personal wealth.

When Hart asked the group what one personal quality of Ryan’s they would give to Romney, the responses were revealing. In the judgment of Michelle Nicole Wienke, 39, a homemaker, Romney could use “relatability to the average American.” Linda Granec, 43 and a homemaker, believes Romney would improve by learning from Ryan how to be “authentic.” Administrative assistant Kate Carter, who voted Republican in 2008 and will in 2012, urges Romney to follow Ryan and dare to become a “risk taker.”

In a strange way, Obama’s real opponent in Wisconsin is not Romney but rather the state’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, who in June, after stripping public employees of their collective bargaining rights and earning the all-out opposition of organized labor, became the first governor in U.S. history to survive a recall election.

Suzy Schreiber, a 2008 Obama voter who’s now undecided, put it this way: “I’ve always leaned to the left. But I voted for him (Walker) in the recall because I liked that he stood by his convictions and he did not care about re-election.” She continued, “Obama hasn’t stood strong enough for his convictions ... because he’s looking for the second election.”

Wilkie, who was laid off three years ago from Harley and who will not vote again for Obama, states: “We need someone who’s brave. I look at Scott Walker. I don’t think the way he went about doing it was the right way. But it needed to be done, and he got it done.” She added: “Scott Walker did it in less than a year. Obama’s had four years.”

All but two of these 12 Wisconsin women have personally or through an immediate family member endured the real pain of losing jobs, homes or businesses. They anxiously seek a strong leader with a specific plan to restore U.S. prosperity for all. Most of them have not yet found that leader.

Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him.

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