Mitt Romney's visit to an inner-city, predominantly African-American West Philadelphia charter school Thursday, pitching his message of education reform, looked like a curious move for his campaign. The images of Romney were, at times, awkward, and he faced a far-from-friendly crowd inside and a crop of protesters outside. But to understand the Romney campaign's decision, look no further than the key demographic group he needs to win over to defeat President Obama - college-educated white voters, particularly women. (Ron Brownstein, in yesterday's Decoded, deems them his "last line of defense.")
Obama will win overwhelming numbers of African-American voters in 2008, even if their turnout level dips slightly from 2008. But it's the affluent suburban voter that's most receptive to a campaign catering to diversity. It's why so many of the potential vice-presidential picks - from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez - don't look like the Democratic stereotype of the white Republican male. Brookings analyst Bill Galston told the Washington Post: "Suburban voters will be a real battleground, and upscale white voters like to think of themselves as tolerant and they won't vote for a candidate that is seen as exclusionary, and the Romney folks must be aware of that."
Polls currently show Obama in very poor shape with working-class whites, performing well with minority voters, with college-educated whites in the middle. The white, upscale professionals are very winnable for Romney, but they still haven't broken from Obama. The Romney campaign believes that the main way to win them over is to contrast Obama's post-partisan promise with the economic reality of 2012. But also expect Romney to appeal to them by making a play for minority voters that the Republican party has often overlooked, through policies like school choice (and, in all likelihood, a far different tone on immigration than he showed in the primaries).
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