Obama, Romney Will Try To Sway Undecided Voters

Correction Oct. 15, 2012

An early version of this interview misidentified the city where Patrick Henry made his famous "Give me liberty or give me death" remark. Henry said that in Richmond, Va., not Williamsburg.

President Obama and Mitt Romney will meet Tuesday night for a town hall-style debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. In the latest poll, 18 percent of respondents said they still hadn't made up their mind who they were going to vote for.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Being a moderate on both sides of the aisle made Arlen Specter a rarity in politics and would so even more now. With three weeks left in the presidential campaign, the sharp political divide in the nation is showing up in the polls. Joining us this morning from member station KSTX in San Antonio is political analyst Cokie Roberts. Good morning.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So let's a snapshot of where things stand as of this morning.

ROBERTS: So three weeks out and the race is still tied. But in an ABC/Washington Post poll that just came out this morning, there are some changes. Romney voters are not more strongly enthusiastic than Obama voters are and less anxious about a Romney presidency. We've also seen tightening in some battleground states, including the all-important state of Ohio and though the undecided voters are down to a precious few, about 18 percent of the voters in this poll say they could be persuaded to change their minds. So there's still a campaign ahead.

MONTAGNE: And President Obama and Mitt Romney will debate for the second time tomorrow in a town hall meeting in Hempstead, New York. Cokie, has the race fundamentally changed since that first debate? Doesn't sound like it.

ROBERTS: Well, the enthusiasm certainly has changed and Romney's crowds are much bigger, but the fundamentals, as you put it, say, you know, those fundamentals, those measures that we look at to track how an incumbent should do on Election Day have mostly changed in the direction of the president. Friday, the consumer confidence numbers were the best they have been since 2007.

And JP Morgan Chase's Jamie Dimon also said then that he believes the housing market has finally turned the corner. And that most important question, do you think the country is headed in the right direction or is off on the wrong track, the numbers saying it's in the right direction are the best they've been in a very long time and they're now at the point where they were when President George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004.

So they're no longer in total danger territory for an incumbent president. On the issues, the president also still runs ahead, but there's danger in the polling on the number one issue of the economy where he and Governor Romney are essentially tied, and the focus groups that the campaigns are doing are saying that voters are worried that things won't get better economically if President Obama is re-elected. So that's a big danger sign.

MONTAGNE: So what do the candidates have to do in tomorrow's debate?

ROBERTS: Well, obviously, the first debate made people look at Governor Romney in a way that they had not and President Obama knows that his performance was not good. The jokes alone have been something that would tell him that. He has been practicing, we are told; he's in Williamsburg.

But it's a town hall format and you can't be too aggressive in that kind of setting. So that's something the president's going to have to watch. For Governor Romney, he still needs to convince people that he is not just for the wealthy in this country. He has to be more approachable. The polls all say that. One of the questions asked is: who would you prefer to babysit for your children? And on that Obama wins hands-down. So that is something that Governor Romney is going to have to work on.

But, you know, the other thing, Renee, is we are now out to get-out-the-vote territory and both campaigns are working really hard on that measure.

MONTAGNE: Cokie Roberts, joining us public radio station KSTX in San Antonio, Texas.

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