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Ohio 'Walmart moms' a battleground within a battleground

By John King, CNN Chief National Correspondent
updated 11:04 AM EDT, Mon October 15, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Undecided moms in Ohio say Mitt Romney's '47%' comments hit home hard
  • Barack Obama leads Romney among white women in Ohio 52%-46%
  • Pollster says Walmart moms matter because they have swung back and forth over time
  • "It would have to be something big" to get one Ohio mom back on Romney's side

Editor's note: The 2012 presidential race is CNN Chief National Correspondent John King's seventh campaign. King is traveling through battleground states, where the election will be decided, to find the voters who will determine whether President Barack Obama gets a second term or if the country needs the change in direction that Mitt Romney represents.

Columbus, Ohio (CNN) -- The clock on the mantle has ticked past midnight, but Jessica Lundgren is studying -- so she can't afford to think about sleep just yet.

"I'm a single mom to a 5-year-old girl who is fantastic," Lundgren told CNN this week. "I work full-time and go to school full-time. So my day usually starts around 4:45 a.m. and ends close to 1 a.m."

She works at a call center and is studying to be a medical assistant. Long, hard days, but no complaints.

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"You do what you have to do in this economy," Lundgren said. "You do what you have to to further yourself."

A few months back, Lundgren was invited to a focus group of "Walmart moms" and said she was leaning toward voting for Republican Mitt Romney.

But she is undecided now, and Romney has only himself to blame.

"The main thing is because of some of the ads that are coming out," Lundgren said. "The one that sticks out the most is the ad where he was talking -- they had some audio of him about the 47%, you know, 'I can't really worry about them.'"

Romney on 47% comments: I was 'completely wrong'

"How can you put your faith and trust in a candidate that doesn't care about everybody?"

A new CNN-ORC International Poll shows Romney back in the hunt in Ohio; President Barack Obama leads among likely voters - 51%-47%, but that is within the poll's margin of error.

Four weeks out, the candidates are tied in the suburbs, tied among independents and tied among voters age 50 and older.

National polls indicate dead heat in Obama-Romney battle

And Romney has a big lead among white men, a necessary ingredient to a Republican Ohio victory.

Romney needs support from white women
Romney responds to 47% comment
Obama & Romney battle for Ohio
Obama and Romney battle for swing states

But if there is a warning sign in the new data, it is this: Among white women, the president leads 52%-46%. Back in 2008 when Obama carried Ohio, he received 47% of votes from white women.

Lundgren is no fan of Obama, so Romney still has a chance as she sorts through the barrage of campaign ads that leave her confused.

"It's kind of like picking the lesser of two evils," Lundgren says. "Kind of -- which devil do you want?"

White women are the battleground within the battleground.

Undecideds: What will sway them?

"These women matter because we have seen them prove to be swing voters over the years," says Margie Omero, a Democratic pollster who for the past several years has been part of a bipartisan study of Walmart moms -- defined as working mothers with children under 18 who have shopped at the retailer at least once in the past month.

"In 2008, they voted for Obama. In early 2010, they were a little bit more divided. By November 2010, they were decidedly Republican."

Sarah Minto is among the converts.

She was an Obama 2008 voter but now volunteers three days a week for the Ohio Romney campaign.

"My mind changed when I started paying attention to the deficit and how long it kept going and how many jobs are being taken away," Minto said during a break from neighborhood canvassing for Romney in Columbus.

Of her 2008 choice, she now says: "He let me down. I was very, very hopeful he would be the guy to turn everything around in America and make everything better. He just -- his words were empty."

CNN Money: A snapshot of Obama's economy

Omero says other moms are not so sure of their presidential choice and share common concerns.

"Their biggest question is how are the next four years really going to help me and my everyday family," Omero said in an interview. "They are worried about putting food on the table. Raising kids who are happy and healthy. Who are going to have a good future. Who are going to graduate into an economy where they can find a job. So they're thinking about all that and they're looking for a candidate who can understand that."

Sharon Wiseman isn't sure Romney understands. And, again, he has only himself to blame.

"The one '47%' audio that we all heard -- I feel like he is not in touch with the common person, like the average middle-class person," Wiseman told us during a visit to her home in the Columbus suburb of Reynoldsburg.

Wiseman describes herself as a Christian conservative and a 2008 John McCain voter. But the 47% remark turned her from undecided to strongly leaning toward voting for the president.

It hit home because her husband, Ray, was out of work for a bit and the family received some help from the government during that time.

CNN Money: Deficit tops $1 trillion for 4th straight year

"I feel like he is out of touch with what everybody is going through, " Wiseman said. "Ohio was one of the hardest places hit. My reaction to what he said is: 'That's me. He's talking about me.'"

Top Romney advisers acknowledge the "47%" remark as one of those rare breakthrough moments in today's cluttered politics. Romney clearly hopes the sting fades as the debates continue and the election nears, but his advisers also expect the Obama campaign will continue to use it as a weapon.

Some Ohio Republicans suggest a television ad featuring Ann Romney targeted directly at those women with doubts.

But it isn't just one Romney remark.

The first debate also pushed Wiseman a bit more into the president's camp.

Of Romney's performance she said: "It seemed like he won and traditionally it was a win. But I felt he came across kind of smug, a little on the arrogant side to me."

Still, she promises to tune into the remaining two presidential debates.

She gives Romney credit for recently saying he was wrong to speak as he did at the now infamous 47% fundraiser and says she might be swayed if he makes a stronger case for his economic approach in the remaining weeks.

"It would have to be something big," Wiseman said. "But I am still going to be open-minded until voting."

Jessica Lundgren also will be following the remaining debates and trying to sort truth from spin from the barrage of campaigns ads -- $20 million in Ohio in the presidential race in just the past two weeks.

"There are so many negative ads going back and forth so it is kind of hard," Lundgren said. "This is my daughter's future, not so much mine. So that is the hard part. I feel like I am making a decision for her as well, not just myself."

Poll: Romney advantage in Florida

In Ohio, Romney, Ryan cast Obama as soft on China

Where they stand: Candidates and issues

Complete coverage: 2012 presidential debates

CNN polling center

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