Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Focus group shows Bain image hurting Romney

By Maria Cardona, CNN Contributor
updated 8:33 PM EDT, Fri June 8, 2012
Mitt Romney has a way to go to erase his image as being more concerned with money than people, says Maria Cardona.
Mitt Romney has a way to go to erase his image as being more concerned with money than people, says Maria Cardona.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maria Cardona says she observed two focus groups of women asked about candidates
  • She says most still know little of Romney; many thought he put business before people
  • She says ads tying him to job losses, takeovers while he was at Bain Capital are working
  • Cardona: The women think the first lady would represent their interests

Editor's note: Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

(CNN) -- There has been much speculation about whether the ads that President Barack Obama's campaign and its supporters have been running that are critical of Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital will be effective. There is also lots of critiquing of the reasons and effectiveness of first lady Michelle Obama's appearances on talk shows and reality shows ("The Biggest Loser," "Late Show With David Letterman," "The Daily Show," etc.).

But something I saw last night indicates the Bain ads are starting to have an effect, and that women view Michelle Obama as a positive -- a conduit to the president.

I was invited to sit in remotely on two focus groups of so-called "Wal-Mart" moms in Richmond, Virginia, and Las Vegas. Both groups -- 23 women, in all -- were screened to ensure the moms were not strong partisans on either side, and most identified themselves as independents and undecided. The Las Vegas group was all Latinas.

Maria Cardona
Maria Cardona

It was a fascinating exercise that confirmed just how tight the presidential campaign will be. But what struck me most was that while Mitt Romney is still largely an unknown with these women -- and as such still has room and opportunity to define himself -- many of them said they did not like what they had heard described from ads about his time as head of Bain Capital.

They gave him kudos for being a businessman, saying that would be a good attribute for a president in creating jobs, but they also underscored what they had heard in the ads that had been running in their hometowns. They used phrases like "I heard that while he was the head of a company, many workers lost their jobs ..." "That scares me."

When asked to use one word or phrase to describe Romney, the words or phrases they used included "Don't know that much about him," "selfish, "businessman who is concerned with making himself some money," "concerned about the wealthy," "can't be trusted," "scares me," and "lackluster" -- again, echoing some of what is being said in the Bain ads around the country.

They did admire him for being a "good family man," and some of the women appreciated his corporate success but others followed up with "the country is more than a business ... a country has to take care of its people." Sound familiar?

Some also gave him credit for having passed a health care plan in Massachusetts, one he is now running away from on the campaign trail.

Opinion: 'Anti-business' label could hurt Obama's chances

So while in the minds of many of these women, Mitt Romney is largely undefined, what they apparently do know and feel about him seems to echo those Bain ads -- and look to represent a beginning sketch of someone they cannot trust.

To be clear, these women were not in the tank for Obama -- but that was the whole point for the exercise to begin with. Many have been disappointed with his "lack of keeping his promises," and many said they haven't seen the change that he talked about so much in 2008.

When asked to use a word or phrase to describe Obama, they used "false promises," "not a lot of change," "big government." But by and large, the women in both of these groups would then follow up with phrases or explanations that would seem to indicate they understood just how difficult a situation he was handed when he came into office. Many stated "he can't do it in three years," or "he has been productive but he is hitting walls," and "he came into a big mess and has made some improvements."

It seemed very fertile ground for the Obama campaign to make the FDR argument also used by President George W. Bush 2004, the one about not changing horses midstream.

Based on their words, these women were most concerned about the economy, jobs and housing. And again, words associated with Romney, such as "concerned for the wealthy," seemed to indicate a disconnect with what families were struggling with.

Interestingly, neither group had any idea what the "gender gap" was. But as they were led in a conversation about issues important to women -- which were inextricably linked to the economy and concern for the health and future of their children -- women in both groups volunteered that Michelle Obama was someone to further the interests of women and their families. The president "listens to Michelle," they said.

Some in the Latina mom group went further and said that Michelle Obama's interests are their interests because she is a woman and a minority. And because of this, the president would make sure their interests are represented. In their eyes, she was them.

There is no doubt there are opportunities here for Romney to work on filling in the blanks, because there are many. But if the old adage is right, that in politics you need to define yourself before your opponent does, then the Romney campaign will need to more fully explain his time at Bain, including why he made millions even as he fired workers and closed companies, denying workers their health care and pensions.

Because right now, what has the potential to sink in is an image of Mitt Romney as head of Bain Capital. That, at least with this small sliver of moms in key battleground states, is one that scares them.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Maria Cardona

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:42 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT