Ad with former Obama backers deemed most effective

President Barack Obama answers a reporter's question after signing the Honoring Americaâ
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Barack Obama
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

(CBS News) TAMPA - With swing-state denizens facing 10 more weeks of campaign ad bombardment, the conservative advocacy organization Americans for Prosperity may be cutting through the clutter most effectively with its relatively low-key attacks on President Obama.

That, at least, was the clear verdict offered by 23 Florida voters on Sunday during a focus group convened by Republican pollster and strategist Frank Luntz.

Almost everyone in the group said they voted for Obama in 2008, but they were about evenly split between Obama and Mitt Romney in the 2012 race, with several still undecided.

Luntz showed the group more than a dozen negative TV ads funded by both presidential campaigns and outside groups and asked participants to rate on a scale of zero to 100 the impact of each ad, regardless of which candidate they are leaning toward.

A majority pointed to a 60-second AFP spot -- which has been running in swing states as part of a reported $27 million advertising blitz by the Koch brothers-backed group -- as the most effective ad of the current cycle.

In the ad, voters who cast their ballots for Obama four years ago speak directly to the camera about why they would not make the same decision in 2012. "He said he was going to cut the deficit in his first term; I've seen zero interest in reducing spending," one man says. "He inherited a bad situation, but he made it worse."

The ad made an especially strong impression on registered Republicans in the Luntz focus group, but registered Democrats and participants who said that they intended to vote for Obama again also gave it high marks.

Asked what they liked about it, several cited the relatively subdued tone and the effectiveness of featuring "real people" instead of actors or politicians.

"They basically said exactly what I'm thinking," one of the participants said of those featured in the ad.

"I can almost see myself in that ad," another added. "It seemed the most real."

One female voter in the ad praises Obama as a "great person" but in the same breath questions his ability to lead the country.

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It's a line of thought that Romney himself often echoed until recently and one that seemed to make a strong impact on the participants in Tampa, many of whom expressed continued personal admiration for the president during the two-hour session.

"They're telling you not to vote for Obama pretty much, but it's not in a personal, negative way," one focus group member said of the ad's approach.

Luntz told a small group of journalists who watched the proceedings from behind a one-way mirror that the AFP ad has been deemed the most effective by every focus group he has conducted around the country in recent months.

By contrast, an American Crossroads spot that featured Obama interacting with various celebrities and mockingly referring to him as "one cool president" registered particularly low with the focus group.

AFP announced on Friday that it was expanding its current TV advertising blitz by an additional $6 million and recently launched a new spot featuring an additional slate of 2008 Obama voters speaking straight into the camera about their disappointment with the president.

Only four of Sunday's 23 focus group participants said ads being run by Obama and his allies are more effective, on the whole, than the ones that the Romney campaign and pro-Romney groups are airing.

The most impactful anti-Romney spot was deemed to be a 60-second ad funded by the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA, in which a man who worked at a plant that was taken over by Bain Capital and later closed recalls being ordered to build a stage that was then used by managers to announce that he had and others were losing their jobs.

"Mitt Romney made over a hundred million dollars by shutting down our plant and devastated our lives," the man in the ad says. "Turns out that when we built that stage, it was like building my own coffin."

Though most in the group had a negative overall impression of the economy, the room was split about evenly when Luntz asked whether it was getting better or worse.

The call for more bipartisanship was a common theme expressed throughout the session, and when asked to offer a word or phrase to describe politics in America today, "a mess," "just absolutely disgusting," and "petty ideologues" were among the most vivid responses.

No one in the group said he or she had a favorable view of the current Congress, although many said that they personally liked their own representative in the U.S. House.

Two of the participants identified themselves as conservative, one as liberal, and the other 20 said they were moderate.

Only eight said they were personally better off now than they were four years ago, but several indicated that they are unsure how much they can trust Romney.

The GOP nominee's refusal to release more than two years of income tax returns appeared to be a significant issue for many of them.

"I'd like to see tax returns from 10 years ago," one participant said. "I'm sure he did not violate the law, but I think he needs to come clean."

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.