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Does Ann Romney really know what women are going through?

August 29, 2012|By Doyle McManus

The conventional wisdom is in: Ann Romney hit the ball out of the park.

That was the consensus of most of the reporters and columnists at the Republican National Convention, including the ones who opined on a Google+ Hangout produced by Google and The Times. Okay, not every verdict was as extravagant as "hit the ball out of the park," but the consensus clearly is that Mrs. Romney exceeded expectations.

Why? In part, because expectations were low -- probably too low. Ann Romney is no ingénue; she’s been giving political speeches for years, ever since her husband first ran for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy in 1994. She's given a string of well-delivered speeches this year too.

COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS: Presidential Election 2012

But the Romney campaign also allowed the storyline to grow that Mrs. Romney was planning merely to "humanize" her husband a little bit -- to give voters an insight into "this boy I met at a high school dance."

In fact, she did much more than that. She told women that she, and by extension her husband, know what they're going through: "It's the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right." (Romney's behind among women, thanks to the traditional gender gap in voting.) And she added a hard-edged swipe at the Obama campaign’s attacks on Romney's record as a  businessman. "It amazes me to see his history of success actually being attacked," she said. "Are those really the values that made our country great?"

Compared to that, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, the keynote speaker, was a letdown.

But never mind what the pundits think. Did Mrs. Romney’s speech move the voters?

The answer to that question, pollster Andrew Kohut said on the Hangout, is clear: It's too soon to tell. And it's probably impossible to measure, he added, since voters are absorbing so much campaign information at the same time.

Besides, Kohut said, it's rare for a convention to change the way voters think about a candidate overnight – "but it can jump start a shift in attitudes toward a candidate that can be positive or else can be the ruin of him or her."

The compressed schedule of this year’s conventions (the Democrats are holding theirs next week) makes public opinion especially fluid, he added. "The second convention tends to trump the first convention."

One contrarian note: Kohut rejects the conventional wisdom that this year's electorate has fewer undecided voters than ever before.

"We find about 20% who aren’t firmly committed to one candidate to another," he said. "A lot of them say they are for one candidate or another but they say they might change their minds." That's about normal in an election where an incumbent president is running for reelection.

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McManus: For Romney, the election hinges on the middle class

Follow Doyle McManus on Twitter @DoyleMcManus 

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