(CBS News) Winning over the remaining four to five percent of voters who've not yet decided which presidential candidate they'll cast their ballots may be an easier task for Mitt Romney than President Obama, GOP pollster Frank Luntz suggested Sunday during an expert panel on "Face the Nation."
Heading into the final three weeks of the 2012 election, undecided voters are much more likely to take into account character than ideology, Luntz argued, using as an example the findings of three focus groups he's run since Thursday night's vice presidential debate. While uncommitted voters largely agreed Vice President Joe Biden took the crown on substance, "not a single person in any group switched" their preference because, Luntz said, they were put off by his mocking facial expressions and persistent interruptions.
"At the risk of interrupting," interjected The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, "what strikes me about this with Romney, for example, is we're not about to pick the head of a yacht club. We're electing a president, right? So in terms of substance, you have a presidential candidate who has a secret plan. He's going to cut taxes 20 percent across the board, $5 trillion, but won't tell us how he'll pay for it. To me, this is insulting to the American people. And this is not, in my mind, a theater performance, Bob. I mean, we are sitting here - we're going to talk polls and strategy and debate performance - but this is isn't show business. This is about leadership and who will lead this country in the next century."
"You've got this ideological chasm right here at this table, and that's not what these last four, five percent want," said Luntz. "They're not voting based on philosophy, because if they were, they would have made up their minds already... They're voting on character."
The veteran pollster reasoned: "If Romney can prove empathy, he wins. If Obama can prove problem-solving, he wins. The case is actually easier at this point for Romney than it is for Obama."
David Corn, the reporter from the liberal Mother Jones magazine who broke the now-infamous "47 percent" video that dogged Mitt Romney, agreed with Luntz, and pointed at the secret recording in which the former Mass. Gov. and Bain co-founder essentially dismisses 47 percent of the country as the kind of thing that could poison one of the campaigns this late in the game.
"We're playing like between the forty-eight-yard lines in a football game - a little margin here, a little margin there," Corn said. "And I do think that's why the '47 percent' tape, which I'll take some credit for it, really showed a lot. And I think that's why Biden came back to it.
"And I do think in the debate ahead, talking to people in the Obama camp, Obama is going to try to remind people that there is a gap between what Romney said in the debate and what he has or hasn't said previously," Corn continued, citing Romney's flip-flopping during his debate against the president on, for example, covering preexisting conditions.
But the president's mission is far heavier than that, CBS News political director John Dickerson said, arguing that Democrats "feel like they're getting mugged by the Romney campaign. So the response was, from Biden, to mug to the camera because they want to send kind of this message of 'Can you believe this guy?' at least to reset the Democratic Party.
"Now what about the swing voters?" Dickerson continued. "I think they're going to make the decision on the top of the ticket, which leaves a huge question for what's the president going to do. Is he going to take this behavior of Biden's and put some reasoning behind it? Is he going to say, you know, 'He's my kind of spouse who's a little overheated but here's the actual reasoning behind it.' And that's the job for the president; otherwise you just have this unfocused kind of sputtering, and that's not going to work."
For his part, Romney campaign adviser Bay Buchanan added, the Republican nominee going into Tuesday's debate has to "keep the momentum" after what was widely seen as a victory over the president in their first face-off. "We've got enormous momentum right now across the board - this is indicated in every one of these states. And what the governor has to do, and what he will do, is be exactly who he was at that last debate - be himself."