Correction, Oct. 19, 2012: The New York Times subsequently reported that the “Jeanane Wilson” interviewed in this story was not an undecided Iowa voter but in fact the lead character in a mockumentary about the presidential campaign that was being shot in Iowa at the time. “Jeanane Wilson” was portrayed by a 48-year-old actress named Jane Edith Wilson who lives in Los Angeles, according to the Times. The incident Wilson describes with Mitt Romney did occur and was captured on video, but Wilson did not divulge her true identity and remained in character during the interview with TPM. In short, we were duped. In the interest of transparency, here is the original version of the story:
WEST DES MOINES, IOWA — All Jeanane Wilson wanted was a chance to talk to Mitt Romney about jobs. She didn’t get that here on Friday, but she did get to meet the man who wants her vote — a man who after months of playing coy about his chances in Iowa is suddenly playing to win the state, and in so doing hoping to put the nomination beyond the reach of his rivals right from the start.
“He didn’t respond to my question,” she told me after the event outside an enormous Hy-Vee grocery store. “But he hugged me. That was a little strange.”
This is not to say that Wilson, a Des Moines resident, wasn’t moved by Romney’s speech to the crowd of more than 300 standing in a cold drizzle. Romney had New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in tow — Christie’s touring the state with him today. Wilson said she was impressed, but she still hasn’t made up her mind who to vote for.
She’s not the only one. With the days ticking down until caucus time, others in the crowd said they still had not made up their mind. With polls showing the top tier in Iowa shifting wildly on a near-daily basis, it’s safe to say the undecided voters at the Romney rally were closer to the rule than the exception.
“Do you think he’ll take questions?” Wilson asked me and another reporter standing on the outskirts of the crowd. Wilson’s husband lost his job as a truck driver, she’s picking up the slack as a part-time home health aide, a job that does not provide her with health insurance, and she’s really worried about the future.
“It’s really stressful out here,” she said.
Electorally, she’s a one-woman poll average. She started out the cycle as “a Bachmann person,” she said, before switching to Rick Perry. “But he was terrible in the debates…and Obama’s pretty sharp,” she said.
So now she’s undecided, but when pressed she said she thinks Romney’s going to win. “[Ron] Paul’s too much of a nut,” she said.
On stage, Romney — who looks increasingly like he agrees with Wilson’s prediction of the final outcome — tried to make his case to people like her by focusing his attention on the man he really wants to face: President Obama. He barely mentioned his Republican opponents, saving the tough stuff for Obama. The sitting president is like Marie Antionette, he said, repeating a line from a recent interview. Obama wants to replace the America of opportunity and individuality with a European-style socialist nightmare Romney said — he wants to “replace ambition with envy” and “the American spirit” with “class warfare,” he continued, repeating another line of attack he’s been using on the stump.
Christie tried to push the crowd toward a final decision a little harder. The New Jersey governor best known for his tough talk said he was in “a good mood” but said that could change if Iowans give someone other than Romney, whom he endorsed after party leaders pushed him to challenge him, the caucus win.
“If you people disappoint me on Tuesday,” Chrisite joked, “I’m will be back, Jersey-style.”
The event enthralled Wilson, but it didn’t move her to make a final decision yet. “The speech was very influential,” she said. Wilson said she’d make up her mind after she sees the other candidates some more.
Two other undecideds in the crowd after the event were in the same boat. Sue Koch of Cumming, Iowa described herself as “an evangelical voter” and said her decision is coming down to Romney, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. Her friend Suzanne Lemon of nearby Cline agreed. Koch said the final decision will come down to electability — who has the best shot at beating Obama.
Romney’s making that argument. “I absolutely agree,” Lemon said when asked about Romney’s speech. “If you like the economy in Europe right now, you’re going to love Obama.”
The final decision, Koch said, comes down to deciding to back the candidate with the best shot at the White House and one that was more in keeping with her personal values.
“I’m trying to reconcile my heart and my head,” she said, perhaps summing up the GOP electorate’s reluctance to embrace the man considered most likely to give Obama a run for his money, but whose conservative bona fides voters still don’t trust.
Romney appears to be winning that fight in the mind of a lot of voters, but if Friday’s event is any judge, he’s still got some convincing to do.