* Ads attacking Romney record making mark with key swing
* Romney must tell own story to "Wal-Mart Moms," establish
* "Moms" want specifics on how Obama, Romney will lift
By Alister Bull
WASHINGTON, June 8 President Barack Obama has
been battered by bad news dimming the outlook for his
re-election, but he might find hope in an unlikely place: the
aisles of Wal-Mart.
Female shoppers at the big-box superstore are viewed as
crucial swing voters in the closely fought 2012 election, and a
pair of recent focus groups suggest that Obama's attempts to
portray Republican rival Mitt Romney as a ruthless corporate
raider might bear fruit.
Obama's attacks on Romney's private equity career at Bain
Capital have been widely panned by pundits and even some
prominent Democratic allies, like President Bill Clinton. But
the blame-it-on-Bain approach might be hitting its mark with
Americans outside Washington.
"The main thing I've heard that kind of scares me is ... the
whole Romney thing, where all these people, the factories that
have been shut down where they've worked over 30 years and then
they are left with nothing," said Rebecca W., a participant in
the Virginia focus group whose last name was not given. "That
In 1996, political strategists deemed suburban "soccer moms"
- middle-class suburban women - as that year's crucial voting
bloc. Eight years later, "NASCAR dads" - blue-collar, usually
white men - were seen as a key demographic to win over. In
recent years it's been "Wal-Mart moms," who are similar to
soccer moms but less affluent. Obama carried this group in 2008,
but they voted Republican in the 2010 congressional elections.
Perhaps sensing a branding opportunity, Wal-Mart Stores Inc
has financed the political study of its shoppers,
although the retail chain had no part in the selection of
participants. The moms all shop at least monthly at the retail
giant and were screened to exclude strong partisans of either
Rebecca, who voted for Republican John McCain in 2008 but is
undecided now, was among 10 women taking part in a focus group
in Richmond, Virginia, on a recent night. She heard the claim
about Romney and jobs in a television ad.
Focus groups are a vital tool for election campaigns looking
to find messages that resonate with voters. They are usually
staged privately, but a small group of Washington reporters was
invited to remotely observe sessions in Richmond and another in
Las Vegas, which was centered on Hispanic mothers.
Virginia and Nevada are vital 2012 battlegrounds that will
help sway the outcome of what is expected to be a very tight
While some participants admired Romney's business success,
there was a general sense that they did not know enough about
the specific policies of either man vying for the White House on
Nov. 6, particularly on how they would boost U.S. jobs.
"There is still a lot of opportunities for both candidates
here. There is good news and also some lessons," said Margie
Omero, president of Momentum Analysis, a Democratic pollster who
helped run the bipartisan study.
"I would advise Democrats to continue talking to these women
because they are hearing some of the beginnings of the general
election campaign but still want to hear some more specifics."
The women in both the Virginia and Nevada groups sensed they
had little in common with Romney, one of the richest men to ever
seek the White House, as the race hits full stride.
"He seems stand-offish. He really needs to be more connected
to the people," said Karla A. in Las Vegas, who described
herself as a Republican who had voted for McCain in 2008 and was
currently leaning Romney's way for November.
Republican pollster Alex Bratty of Public Opinion
Strategies, who helped run the study, said Romney had an
opportunity to fill in voters on his personal life story and
fight back against the negative ads.
"Mitt Romney is not well defined with these moms," she said.
"There is clearly room for him to develop his credentials, his
reputation, who he is as a person with these moms, because they
really don't know much more beyond the fact that he is a
The examination was part of a bipartisan study of Wal-Mart
moms that began in 2010. The pollsters estimate the group makes
up 14 percent to 17 percent of the U.S. electorate.
Members of the Wal-Mart's founding family, the Waltons, have
so far given $813,000 to Republicans in this election cycle,
according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.
Wal-Mart employees and political action committees
affiliated with the company have so far given $811,000, in
roughly equal amounts to both parties, according to the
nonpartisan research group.
Women and Hispanics favored Obama in 2008 and continue to do
so after the Republican primary contests that gave Romney enough
delegates to claim the party's presidential nomination was
marked by a series of attacks on immigration and women's
Obama needs to maintain his standing with both groups of
voters to succeed in November but he has been chided by Latino
leaders for failing to live up to 2008 promises on immigration
reform and for conducting aggressive deportations since taking
The Hispanic moms in Las Vegas did not echo that
disappointment. They said they felt a strong affinity with
Obama, America's first black president, as a fellow member of a
"I feel more connected to Obama than the white man," said
Leanne B., who said she was undecided about November but voted
for Obama in 2008.
"He (Romney) had it easier than the black man, or a