Mary Barker, a 60-year-old retired school librarian from Fairfax Station, Va., could be deciding this election.
Four years ago, she voted for President Obama. This year, she’s not sure she will vote for him again.
What makes someone like Mary Baker so important is that she is from the northern Virginia suburbs, a part of the state where Obama ran up the score in 2008. If he loses voters like Barker in 2012, he almost certainly loses the state.
We got to meet Barker on Monday night when she joined 11 other swing voters from northern Virginia in a focus group sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
Like almost everyone else in the room, Barker said she believed the economy was improving, yet she didn’t give Obama much credit for the turnaround. She lamented that there were still too few jobs. More important, she believes that Romney will be stronger on the economy, because he and his running mate, Paul Ryan, are “number crunchers.”
When asked what she thought of Obama’s speech at the Democratic Convention, she told moderator Peter Hart, “I wanted to be inspired, but I wasn’t. Where’s the beef. Something was missing.”
At the same time, she’s not sold on Romney either. She wants him to release his tax records. “It just seems like it’s just not fair. What’s good for someone on one side should be good for someone on the other.” She was unimpressed with Romney’s speech at the Republican Convention. Her greatest worry about Romney is that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” And, she said, “Obama will be better on women’s health, and that makes a difference to me.”
A recent Washington Post poll of Virginia voters revealed some of Mary’s ambivalence. While Obama held an eight point lead overall - 52 percent to 44 percent – he held just a narrow 2 point lead -47 percent to 45 percent – on the question of who would do a better job on the economy.
Also going for Obama, the fact that his voters are much more excited about him than Romney voters are about their candidate. Among Obama voters, 61 percent said they were “very enthusiastic” about him.” Only 45 percent of Romney supporters said the same about him.
So, how will Mary Barker vote in November? Will she focus on her frustration with Obama and what she worries will be “more of the same” in a second Obama term and support Romney? Will Romney’s record on women’s issues sway her toward Obama? Will Romney’s recent “47 percent” comments only increase her worry that the former Massachusetts governor will simply widen the income inequality gap? How she votes will tell us whether Virginia stays blue or turns red, and that could decide the election.