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June 16th, 2012
01:28 AM ET

Letters to the President #1244: 'If a president falls in the forest'

Reporter's Note: I don’t know if President Obama is much of an outdoorsman. I’ve spent many hours in the woods and I have a natural sense of direction; that’s how I manage to send a letter straight to the White House every day no matter where I am. Ha!

Dear Mr. President,

Did you see the video of that Democratic focus group out in Colorado? In a nutshell, researcher Peter Hart asked them a bunch of questions about you, and Mitt Romney, trying to suss out what they really think of this upcoming election. The good news (for your team) is that they don’t exactly have great things to say about Gov. Romney. The bad news is, they don’t have much good to say about you either.

Consider one question. The group (and remember, these are Democrats, many of whom voted for you last time) were asked something like, “If you were lost in the woods with Barack Obama, what do you think he would do?”

Their answers were almost entirely along the lines of “blame it on Bush,” or “give a pep talk,” or “have a slogan.”

I’m sure you are aware that these are not the kinds of answers a sitting president should be hearing when he is facing re-election in a matter of months. They are flippant. Dismissive. Sneering. And these are your friends. No wonder Hart came out of those sessions saying you have a problem.

To be fair, I don’t put much stock in focus groups. I think they can be easily swayed by one or two strong personalities. I think the way questions are phrased can have a huge impact. But I don’t entirely discount them either.

Because small comments, like whether a president is more prone to look for results or slogans, have a way of growing into general notions sometimes. Worse: I think they often reflect larger movements that are already underway. So ask yourself: Were the people in this focus group reflecting a few disaffected outliers in your party, or were they simply saying in front of researchers what a lot of your supporters are saying in private?

The answer may well determine if you make it out of the woods to win this fall.

Regards,
Tom

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