America faces two general elections. One is occurring in seven or so swing states, where voters have experienced saturation advertising—mostly negative—since mid-June. The total-immersion process in these states has made this a very different campaign from that experienced by voters in the 40-odd other states who have witnessed this election from afar, largely through national news. It should be no surprise that voters in those two distinct groups should be behaving differently.
In the states that have experienced the minimalist campaign, the popular-vote numbers are even or maybe up for Republican nominee Mitt Romney by a bit. For people who live there, the campaign effectively started with the first debate. Many undecided voters were pleasantly surprised by Romney, who presented himself as moderate, reasonable, intelligent, and earnest. He also came across as more of a problem-solver than the ideological robot voters had seen earlier in the campaign through their binoculars.
But for those in the battleground states, who had seen Romney’s head bashed in last summer by the Obama campaign’s attacks on Bain Capital, plant closings, layoffs, outsourcing, and income taxes—not to mention bank accounts in Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Switzerland—skepticism has persisted. Much more than in the rest of the country, Romney’s scar tissue continues to get in the way of these swing-state voters fully embracing this new and improved Mitt. Sure, after the debates, particularly the first one, many undecideds moved his way. But the ranks of new Romney supporters are smaller and more hesitant in the swing states than in the other states, where viewers didn’t witness the hits on his image inflicted by President Obama’s campaign and Priorities USA, the leading Democratic super PAC.