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Romney As Swing-voter Bait? Hmmm...

In honor of today's Washington Post front-pager suggesting a McCain VP announcement is imminent, let me just scratch my head again at the case for Mitt Romney. It's not so much that Romney lacks selling points. He'd obviously add financial firepower to the ticket, for example. (Though even that's been overstated.) And he probably helps put Michigan in play.

What I don't understand is this idea that Romney helps McCain on the economy, which everyone concedes will be the nominee's greatest vulnerability. The basis for this claim is that Romney was a very successful consultant and private-equity fund manager. And there's no question that this would help him make economic policy. But that's hardly the same as winning over voters who are struggling financially, which is what most people have in mind when they say the economy will be a challenge for McCain.

In fact, with the exception of Michigan, where Romney had home-court advantage, McCain--he who allegedly struggles with downscale voters--almost always did better than Romney among the middle- and working-class, while Romney tended to do better with the country-club set. I wrote about this just after the Florida primary:

After Michigan (and even after last Thursday's debate in Boca Raton), we all marveled at Mitt Romney's transformation from implausible conservative to highly-believable businessman-pragmatist. After Florida, it looks like the Romney campaign may have had it right all along: Romney's base came into focus pretty clearly tonight, and it's not middle-class people worried about the economy, but wealthy people and conservatives.  

In Michigan, Romney won every income category above $30,000 per year. In Florida, Romney only won upper middle-class voters (between $100,000 and $200,000), while he and McCain tied among middle-class people ($50,000-$100,000) and Romney lost decisively among working-class Republicans. The question you have to ask after Florida is: Was Michigan an aberration--the result of McCain's excessive straight-talk about manufacturing jobs and Romney's auto-industry pandering (not to mention his native-son advantage)? I suspect it was. After tonight, it's not clear Romney has much appeal beyond his country-club demographic. (Keep in mind that, even in Michigan, Romney didn't carry people who thought the economy was "poor;" just people who thought it was "not good" or "good.")

And that's pretty much how it played out in other states, too--both before and after Michigan. (Relatedly, Romney almost always did better at the upper ends of the income ladder than at the lower ends, while McCain did pretty well throughout, and usually somewhat better at the lower ends.)

So, to the McCain campaign: If you're looking for help with swing voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania, you'd be much better off with someone like Tim Pawlenty, who actually comes from a working-class background and has demonstrated appeal among those voters.

P.S. And while we're on the subject of VP myths, we should probably scrutinize the one about Charlie Crist delivering Florida a bit more. I addressed it in that same post from above:

Did that vaunted Charlie Crist endorsement pay dividends? Tough to say. According to the exit polls, almost 20 percent of voters said Crist's endorsement was very important, and McCain won more than 60 percent of them. On the other hand, if you look at when people made their decision, it's not so clear it mattered. Crist endorsed McCain Saturday night, and McCain did win people who made their decision over the last three days by two points. But that's the exact same margin by which he won people who made their decision over the last week, implying no endorsement effect.

--Noam Scheiber