Mitt Romney's Favorability Gap (The Note)

(Image Credit: Yoon S. Byun/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )

Mitt Romney is "underwater."

Just as the former Massachusetts governor is emerging from a bruising primary fight to become the presumptive Republican nominee, a new ABC News-Washington Post poll shows that 35 percent of Americans see Romney favorably compared to 47 percent who have an unfavorable opinion of him.

President Obama, on the other hand, gets a "favorable" rating from 56 percent of Americans and an "unfavorable" one from 40 percent.

The key point, according to ABC News pollster Gary Langer, is this: Romney is holding onto "the weakest favorability rating on record for a presumptive presidential nominee in ABC News/Washington Post polls since 1984. He's the first likely nominee to be seen more unfavorably than favorably."

As the gender wars have raged over the last week, the new poll also underscores Romney's problem with women voters, among whom his favorability is lowest - just 27 percent of women see him favorably. By contrast, Obama gets favorable marks from 58 percent of women.

"It's been a long rut for Romney," notes Langer. "His favorability rating among all adults has steadily remained between 31 and 39 percent since fall, never yet cracking 40 percent. Its average across this time is 35 percent, exactly where it is today."

Romney has moved quickly to consolidate the GOP base as the competitive portion of the primary season winds down, but his bigger problems remains with independents and women. And that's what's largely dragging him down:

-Among independents, Romney is underwater by 34-47 percent, favorable-unfavorable.

-Obama has a 29-point advantage in favorability over Romney among Americans with household incomes less than $50,000 a year.

-Obama's favorable score is 9 points higher than Romney's among married adults, but this swells to a 37-point advantage among those who are not married.

(Full poll results:

But favorability and vote preference are not the same thing, and in the first general election Gallup tracking poll out yesterday, Romney finished ahead of the president. Romney enjoyed the support of 47 percent of registered voters compared to 45 percent for Obama.

It's a statistical dead heat, and the race could stay that way all the way up until November.

EXCLUSIVE: MITT ROMNEY TELLS DIANE SAWYER OBAMA SHOULD 'START PACKING.' Acting very much like the GOP nominee, Mitt Romney sent a curt message to President Obama yesterday:  "Start packing." The message, delivered with a chuckle, came in an exclusive interview at Boston's Fenway Park with "World News" anchor Diane Sawyer who asked the presumptive GOP nominee if he had something to say to the president. Romney said Obama's "policies have not helped the American people.  They have not helped get jobs, they have not helped raise incomes and they've added trillions of dollars of debt." He was backed by his wife of 43 years, Ann Romney, who told Sawyer she also had a message for Obama. "I believe it's… Mitt's time… It's our turn now," she said. Last week, the Romney campaign was able to flip the Democrats' so-called "war on women" strategy by highlighting a Democratic strategist's attacks on Ann Romney for never holding a job. Ann Romney told a GOP fundraiser this weekend that the failed Democratic talking point had been a "birthday gift." "That wasn't how I meant it," Ann Romney told Sawyer. "It was a birthday gift to me because I love the fact that we're talking about this." (h/t ABC's Emily Friedman and Russell Goldman)

On whether he can relate to working people:

"We don't divide America based upon success and wealth and other dimensions of that nature.  We're one nation under God ….  This is a time when people of different backgrounds and different experiences need to come together.  I happen to believe that I'm by far the best qualified in this race between myself and President Obama," Romney told Sawyer.

On Obama's suggestion that Romney release 12 years of his tax returns:

"The president is going to try and do everything possible to divert from the attention being focused upon his record as president and the failure of his economic policies. So he's going to try to make this campaign about the fact that I've been successful, that I've made a lot of money," he said.

On his abortion stance:

"I would love the Supreme Court to say, 'Let's send this back to the states.' Rather than having a federal mandate through Roe v. Wade, let the states again consider this issue state by state," he said, effectively ending legalized abortion nationwide.

LONG-TIME ROMNEY CONFIDANTE TO RUN VEEP SEARCH COMMITTEE.  During his exclusive interview with Sawyer, Romney revealed for the first time that he has put longtime adviser Beth Myers in charge of his vice presidential vetting process. "I have selected someone who has been a counselor of mine for a number of years, Beth Myers. She was my chief of staff when I was governor," the former Massachusetts governor said. "I've asked her to be the person who oversees the process of the vice presidential selection and vetting an analysis and so she's begun that process and is putting together the kinds of things you need to do to vet potential candidates," Romney added. Asked whether there is a deadline for choosing his running mate, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee said he does have a deadline in mind but would not reveal the specifics."It would certainly be by the time of the convention," he said. "I don't think we've chosen the time we'd actually make an announcement," Romney said.

ANN ROMNEY ON SEAMUS: THE DOG 'LOVED IT' Seamus, Mitt Romney's Irish setter who traveled with his young family strapped to the roof of their station wagon, "loved" those trips, despite once getting ill, Ann Romney told Sawyer in Boston yesterday. Seamus' 1983 trip from Boston to a summer cottage in Ontario, Canada, inside a dog carrier lashed atop the family's Chevrolet, has become a regular barb in Romney's side and is routinely used by his critics to paint him as uncaring. Mitt Romney told Sawyer that the Seamus attacks were the most wounding of the campaign "so far," but Anne Romney insisted the dog loved traveling that way and looked forward to trips. "The dog loved it," Ann Romney said. "He would see that crate and, you know, he would, like, go crazy because he was going with us on vacation.  It was to me a kinder thing to bring him along than to leave him in the kennel for two weeks."

Full transcript of Diane's interview with the Romneys:


NOTABLE: ROMNEY ALREADY CHOSE A RUNNING MATE. ABC's Jonathan Karl plays political historian: Lost in the frenzy of speculation about who Mitt Romney will pick as a vice presidential candidate is that this is not the first time he has chosen a running mate. When he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Romney tapped Kerry Murphy Healey as his pick for lieutenant governor, a decision that may provide some clues into how he'll handle the search this time around. Beth Myers, who is running Romney's VP search, was also advising the candidate back then.  She tells ABC News that gender was a factor - Romney put a priority on having a woman as a running mate - but above all, he was looking for somebody he could work closely with, on the campaign trail and in the office. "They were absolutely running together," Myers told ABC News.  "She partnered with him on everything [and was] integrated completely into our operation."

VIDEO OF THE DAY: WHAT HAPPENED IN VEGAS…. At a congressional hearing yesterday, GSA commissioner Jeff Neely invoked the Fifth Amendment and declined to answer questions on taxpayer money spent in Las Vegas. ABC's Jake Tapper reported for "World News." WATCH:



RICK SANTORUM DECLINES TO ENDORSE (YET), TELLS SUPPORTERS: 'STAY TUNED.' Rick Santorum said last night there is "no question Barack Obama has to be defeated," but did not say he would back presumptive nominee Mitt Romney, instead revealing he had only spoken to Newt Gingrich, not Romney yet, ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports. "As far as going with a particular presidential candidate right now I mean had a chance to talk to Newt, I haven't had a chance yet to talk to Gov. Romney," Santorum said on a conference call. "But we'll be talking to both of them and we are going to go out and deal with who we believe is in the best interest of our country and winning this election and make sure that we have a conservative platform, conservative message and they follow through with that conservative message after the election." Although Santorum is expected to eventually back Romney - both longtime adviser John Brabender and top donor Foster Friess told ABC News last week they expect him to endorse Romney - he was specific tonight that he was not endorsing anyone in the presidential race. "I haven't supported any candidate at this point," Santorum said, when asked who his supporters should vote for in the Pennsylvania primary on April 24. He instead told them "the best thing" they can do is "stay tuned" and promised he would stay "active and engaged" in the campaign.

SECRET SERVICE BRAGGED ABOUT PROTECTING OBAMA WHILE PARTYING. ABC News' Reena Ninan, Christine Romo and Mary Bruce Report have learned exclusively that the Secret Service officials accused of misconduct in Colombia revealed their identities by boasting at a Cartagena brothel that they worked for President Obama. Partying at the "Pley Club" Wednesday night, eleven members of the president's advance team allegedly bragged "we work for Obama" and "we're here to protect him." The officials spent the night throwing back expensive whiskey and enlisting the services of the club's prostitutes, according to a bouncer at the club and a police source. Sources tell ABC News several of the men agreed to pay for, and received, services from the "highest category" prostitutes available at the club, who charge upwards of $200. The officials were in Cartagena on assignment ahead of the president's visit for the Summit of the Americas last weekend. The controversy surrounding the officials' misconduct, however, overshadowed the summit last week and local residents are questioning why the city put so many resources into the international event only to be left with a tarnished reputation.

SENATOR'S NEW BOOK CARRIES DIRE ECONOMIC WARNING. The leading Republican budget hawk in the Senate, Senator Tom Coburn, R-OK., is coming out today with a new book that provides a harsh critique of Congress and a dire warning for the future economic situation of the nation, ABC's Jonathan Karl and Sunlen Miller report. The picture Coburn paints in his new book, "The Debt Bomb: A Bold Plan to Stop Washington from Bankrupting America," is not a rosy one of the state of the U.S. Congress. He lambasts the upper chamber as a body that is "heavily sedated" and calls for 90% of the unproductive members to be fired. "Congress today is a stagnant pond that needs to be drained and refilled with a steady stream of new public servants," he writes, according to excerpts provided to ABC News in advance of release."I'm a fan of the Jack Welch principle in reverse for Congress … fire 90 percent of members every election and only keep the 10 percent who were productive." Coburn says that the "root of almost all that ails Washington," is careerism. "Careerism is the dark matter of the political universe. It is the unseen force that bends decisions, and character, in ways that defy common sense and obvious explanations," he writes.  "If members of Congress knew their current term would be their last, I have no doubt we could defuse the debt bomb within a matter of days … Bridging the gap between conservatives and liberals is easy compared to bridging the gap between courage and cowardice. "

HERMAN CAIN BACKS OFF GINGRICH ENDORSEMENT. Less than two months ago, Herman Cain, who was out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, stood on a stage in West Palm Beach, just three days before the Florida primary and told the crowd, "I hereby officially and enthusiastically endorse Newt Gingrich for the president of the United States." Gingrich had just come off a sweeping win in South Carolina, had the fundraising dollars pouring in and a financial safety net in billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson. But ABC's Elicia Dover notes that on Monday Cain walked back his endorsement of Gingrich saying, "With all due respect, let's get on with this, OK?" "I even endorsed Newt Gingrich at one point because I thought that he had a shot. Well, not now. He doesn't have a shot," Cain said to Washington radio station WMAL. Cain refused to comment to ABC News Monday over this morning's comments about Gingrich, but Gingrich campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond said the party is trying is lock down the nomination. "The angle right now is for the party to get to a nominee as fast as possible," Hammond said. "It's up to Herman Cain whether or not he's put in his application with the establishment."

PRIMARY PRIMER: THE RACE FOR GABBY GIFFORDS' SEAT. ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield: The primary for the special election in Arizona's 8th congressional district - the district formerly represented by Gabby Giffords - takes place today, with the special election to follow on June 12. The Democratic field is already set. Ron Barber, the former district director for Giffords, is running unopposed. He has Giffords' endorsement. On the Republican side, there are currently four candidates in the race: State Senator Frank Antenori; Martha McSally, a retired air force pilot; sports broadcaster Dave Sitton; and Jesse Kelly, a former marine who ran unsuccessfully against Giffords in 2010. Kelly is seen as the favorite to win the nomination again this time around; polling has placed him in the lead. The National Republican Congressional Committee has remained neutral during the primary. Barber, who was injured during the shooting on Jan. 8, 2011, has so far been a strong fundraiser - taking in over $500,000 through March 28, according to his FEC disclosures, far more than any of his Republican competitors. He has not yet begun to advertise on television.


@MelanieDNC : Amazing that there still appears to be NO OUTRAGE over @MittRomney supporter Ted Nugent's violent, despicable NRA rant. Will Romney condemn?

@Reince : Buffett Tax vote is just another rejection of Obama's policies- enough gimmicks, Americans want real solutions.

@RBReich : It's tax day - the day when the richest 1 percent pay a smaller % of their income than they have in 40 years…

@washingtonpost : Space shuttle Discovery flies into Washington at 10 a.m. ET. Here's where to watch it:

@politicoroger : Wait. My taxes are due when?


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