For Romney and Obama, it all comes down to ‘the persuadables.’ Are you one?

Swaying the 6 percent of likely voters who haven't yet decided could determine the presidential election. Who's really left to convince in an election where the differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are so stark?

Charlie Neibergall/AP
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama campaign together in Dubuque, Iowa, on Wednesday.

President Obama hit the “Morning Mayhem” radio show in New Mexico this week, talking up soul food and super hero powers. Meanwhile, Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s running mate, is in Florida, chatting Medicare with seniors, his elderly mom in tow as proof that he’s not about to throw “granny off a cliff,” as critics have suggested.

As the final leg of the 2012 election approaches, the gambits are telling: After nearly endless primaries, base voters on both sides are largely locked in, ready to vote.

So, what’s really at stake now are perhaps 6 percent of likely voters who are still undecided. What’s more, according to recent polls, nearly 20 percent of those voters would consider changing their mind. And then there’s the 80 million or so “unlikely voters” – Americans largely turned off by politics and Washington cynicism who, nevertheless, could make a huge splash if even a small percentage decided to vote after all.

Seen that way, it looks like the race is wide open with the two candidates running neck-in-neck in major national polls.

IN PICTURES: on the campaign trail with President Barack Obama

But not so fast. Despite the third of Americans who are technically independent “swing voters,” the numbers of actual “persuadables,” as they’re called, has been shrinking. The Pew Research Center found recently that – surprise, surprise – liberals have become more liberal and conservatives more conservative, comprising the book ends of the election.

“There’s a very small slice of people who are genuinely undecided, but it’s enough to win the presidency,” Rich Beeson, the political director for Mr. Romney’s campaign, tells the Associated Press.

One group of persuadables is Hispanics, who have in the past shown a willingness to break party lines to vote for specific candidates.

In recent days, the Romney campaign seems to have largely ceded the Hispanic vote by forgoing picking Florida Sen. Marco Rubio as VP – even though there’s general support for President Obama’s new immigration policy allowing young Hispanics who were brought to the US as children to apply for “deferred action” from immigration authorities so they can become legal to work and drive.

One reason Romney may have tacked away: Analysts often overemphasize the Hispanic impact on elections.

In Florida, the swing state’s huge population of seniors could really hold the key, part of the reason why Romney and Ryan are going on the offensive on Medicare reform, pitching it as a way to save the venerable entitlement program as opposed to Obama’s “robbing” it to pay for health care reform law. (Democrats accuse Republicans of planning to “gut” Medicare, a line that, if it sticks, could doom the Romney-Ryan ticket.)

In other key swing states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Obama still has a chance to make inroads with lower-income whites, especially as Romney has struggled to endear himself with what would otherwise be a natural Republican constituency. Democratic strategists say there’s huge interest in the campaign to court struggling white voters with a “clear economic juxtaposition” that highlights that they haven’t received their “fair share,” Politico’s Alexander Burns reported recently.

This week, Romney tried to flank Obama on that front, not only by picking Ryan, who has Irish working class roots, but by appearing on Friday in front of an army of dusty coal miners in Ohio and the sign, “We stand with coal country!”

With the African-American and Hispanic votes largely sewn up, the Obama campaign likely sees suburban women as the most coveted prize, and will look to score points by painting the Republican duo as paternalistic white guys looking back instead of, as the Obama campaign slogan goes, “forward.”

But that doesn’t mean Romney is about to cede the soccer mom vote.

“I can see a little bit of potential for Romney to make some inroads there – not just suburban women, but people who for one reason or another had doubts about Sen. McCain and were taken in by the no-red state, no-blue state, purple-state malarkey,” Republican strategist Whit Ayers told Politico.

A Suffolk University survey of 800 likely nonvoters – the “other America,” as researchers termed them – suggested that 59 percent of the 80 million or so eligible voters who don’t vote are turned off by “broken promises” and “corruption.”

What’s doubtless is that if even a sliver of those “other Americans” can be convinced to shed some of their cynicism and apathy, they could decide the next president of the United States. For Obama, that’s a vexing reality as he tries to build enthusiasm for four more years.

Why vexing for Obama? Among those voters, 55 percent view Obama favorably versus 25 who view Romney in a favorable light, and more of those Obama supporters would head to the polls if they thought they could impact the outcome.

Obama may, in fact, have had some of those voters in mind as he left the White House press corps in the dust last week and turned to outlets like Entertainment Tonight to speak directly to Americans who may not be engaged in the election or the daily barrage of horse race news from the campaign trail. After he hung up with the New Mexico “Morning Mayhem” crew, host Kiki Garcia, at least, felt a new connection. “I just flirted with the President,” she giggled.

Unfortunately, some of the nonvoters who may have been listening in Albuquerque, according to the Suffolk survey, list “empty promises, a bad economy and negativity” as chief reasons for not voting.

“Obama just needs to unlock [that treasure chest] and get them out to vote,” says David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. But, he adds, “Obama has lost time – and the key – to open that treasure chest.”

IN PICTURES: on the campaign trail with President Barack Obama

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