It’s hard to say how many minds Mitt Romney changed with his strong debate performance Wednesday.
But count Leslie Kupatas among the likely converted. A registered Democrat from Chester County, Kupatas was undecided when she responded to a Morning Call/Muhlenberg College political poll last week. But now Kupatas, who voted for Barack Obama in 2008, may vote for Romney.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll out Thursday showed Romney boosting his favorability five percentage points from the debate, but still trailing Obama on that measure. Obama’s favorability is 56 percent among the nation’s voters, and Romney’s is now 51 percent, up from 46 percent before the debate. No new Pennsylvania polls are out yet.
Kupatas, 67, a retired nurse, said Republicans generally “give everything to the big-money people.” But she doesn’t think Obama has been successful turning the economy around and thought his debating was “weak.”
“I’m thinking about Romney, when before I wasn’t at all,” she said. “Maybe the free enterprise system is the way to go. If Romney’s saying his priority is going to be jobs, then I really do think at this point [I could vote for him].”
Post-debate, voters see the Republican candidate as better suited to deal with the economy, jobs and deficit, the Reuters/Ipsos poll showed.
While Obama still leads, the poll found Romney narrowing the race to five points. Pollster Cliff Young told Reuters that a more accurate reading of the debate’s impact won’t be seen for several days.
Registered independent Tony Sundermeier, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Allentown, wouldn’t say Thursday who will get his vote. But he too was impressed with Romney’s debate performance, which he thought would appeal to centrists.
“Romney was clearly more aggressive and he dominated the stage,” Sundermeier said. “To use a football analogy: Romney put a shotgun, five-wide-receiver package on the field and Obama went to a prevent defense.
“A centrist Romney is way more electable than the Romney who has often cozied up to the most fringe elements of his party,” he said. “The question for many independent voters is which Romney, if elected, will actually show up.
“I thought Obama’s performance was so lackluster and fatigued that I honestly can’t remember, even 18 hours later, anything that he said that was new or significant.”
Sundermeier said the debate didn’t change his vote. He said he has taken the “long view” in making his decision, including who would protect so-called government safety nets for the elderly and most vulnerable citizens.
Romney hit themes that resonate with independent and undecided voters, such as his ability to work withDemocrats as governor of Massachusetts, said Lehigh Valley Congressman Charlie Dent, a Republican who has won election four times despite a district with fewer Republicans than Democrats.
“I think independents and persuadable Democrats could walk away from that feeling Mitt Romney is on a mission and has a serious agenda,” Dent said. “He is serious and he is substantive.”
Dent speculated Romney’s performance would tighten the race in Pennsylvania. The latest Morning Call/Muhlenberg College poll of Pennsylvania showed Obama up seven percentage points over Romney among likely voters.
Obama’s top Democratic strategist, David Axelrod, said the campaign plans to point out where Romney’s successful debate-night rhetoric contradicted his own long-held positions on the issues.
“Not surprisingly, what we learned is that he will say anything,” Axelrod said in a conference call with reporters. “That makes him effective in the short term but vulnerable in the long term.”
Romney’s debate performance wasn’t enough to drag Matt Tuerk of Allentown out of the Obama column.
A registered independent, Tuerk, 37, voted for Obama in 2008 and plans to vote for him again this year, despite his “rotten” debate performance. He said Romney showed an unexpected “spark” in the debate that humanized him a bit.
“I’m still going to vote for Obama,” Tuerk said. “But I feel a little less worse than I did yesterday morning about the prospect of a President Romney.”
Ann Rakowsky, 88, a registered Republican in Frackville, Schuylkill County, said she was surprised at how well Romney came off, and it reinforced her intention to vote for him.
“He did fabulous, I just couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I don’t know if you noticed, but the president looked like he was so upset and so flustered. Romney put him to shame.”