Veteran message guru and pollster Frank Luntz says the campaign is far from over, but so far President Obama's campaign has held the upper hand with its attacks on Mitt Romney's business experience.
"Bain is the pinnacle of a successful, free-market company that helps companies survive and grow. And they also don't have a perfect record. Not every company succeeded with them. Everyone respected Bain. And now suddenly it's become the focal point of the presidential campaign and Mitt Romney doesn't know how to talk about it, which I don't understand," he said.
In an interview with CBS News's Nancy Cordes for "Face to Face", Luntz laid out how he would advise Romney on talking about Bain. "It's simple. If I can: we need to be the most effective nation economically. We need to be the most competitive nation economically. We need to have the best training, the best education, the best resources, the best tools. And companies like Bain help other companies provide, create the best. Did they succeed every time? No. Because not every business succeeds every time. But we are part of promoting economic freedom, and we're being attacked by somebody who never worked in the private sector a day in his life."
Luntz said that the attacks have been successful in defining Romney.
"It's because people look at this company and they're trying to decide what kind of person Mitt Romney is. Does he understand me, does he understand my concerns, does he understand my fears as well as my hopes and dreams? And what Bain does is, because Bain is dollars and cents, and let's face it - if you want to balance this budget, if you want to cut the debt, you're going to have to make some tough choices. And that's what Bain does. It's not an emotional - Bain is not something from the heart.
"Bain is: we're going to invest here, we're going to stop investing there. You make difficult decisions which is what we expect our presidents to do is to make difficult decisions that will have a long-term positive impact on the country. And so it makes for a decent campaign attack against Mitt Romney. But in reality those who know anything in the business, including Democratic governor Ed Rendell, Democratic Mayor Cory Booker, there's an endless number of Democrats who are saying don't do this, this is a good company," he said.
Luntz pointed out that the president's campaign is running a large number of campaign ads in the battleground states and suggests that the attacks could backfire.
"You're the president. You've been president for three-and-a-half years. What have you done? He doesn't talk about it. He only attacks Mitt Romney... But in the end voters are going to say to him, Dude you're the man in charge. It's not enough for you to tell me why your opponent isn't good. You've got to prove to me that you deserve another four years. And he's not doing it," he said.
The current push from the Obama campaign and Democrats to force Romney to release additional tax returns illustrates this point, he continued. "I would ask a simple question: if you don't have much to defend, maybe your only hope is to attack."
The battle for the White House, though, is being fought through these attacks.
"I think that, in the end, Romney wins if he focuses on the economy and Obama wins if he focuses on Mitt Romney. And so you've got these two battles going back and forth. Really, the loser is the American people because they have the right to know what these candidates are going to do. They have the right to know where they stand. And they have the right to hold both candidates accountable," he said.
Luntz added voters are looking for someone who knows them and can fix their problems and it's a candidate's character that matters most.
"Yeah, the issues matter, but it's also who you are, what you're about. Do you understand? Do you feel their pain and their anxiety?" Luntz asked. "Barack Obama's got the advantage on the feeling their pain. I like to say that he caused their pain, but he feels it while he was causing it. Mitt Romney is a problem-solver, but he doesn't give off that sense of I get it, I feel it, I understand it. So I don't know who the Americans are going to vote for. The empathizer-in-chief, or the problem-solver-in-chief."
As for where the race currently stands, Luntz said Mr. Obama has the edge currently.
"And I will say this. I am watching two states. I had it down to one and now it's back up to two, which is Ohio and Virginia," Luntz said. "You tell me who wins both those states, I don't care what happens to the rest of the 48 states, I don't care, I don't look at national polling data. I don't even look at state-by-state. Except for Ohio and Virginia."
He predicted the swing voters in those two states could decide the election.
"There's something weird going on in both those states. You've got blue-collar, working-class Democrats that are voting Republican for the first time because Barack Obama's anti-coal. You have suburban women voting Democrat for the first time because they don't like Bain. And so you've got this cross-current and people are actually switching their votes in these states. Everything else is solid. Everyone who voted for McCain is voting for Romney. Everyone who voted for Obama's voting for Obama. But these five or six percent, the swing voters, it's too early to see where they go," he said.
"Isn't it amazing that it's all going to come down to these niche voters?" asked Cordes.
"Two point eight percent of Americans will decide how the other 97.2 percent live. And [the campaigns] will spend $2 billion on that 2.8 percent," said Luntz. "It would be better if they just bought them a steak dinner."
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