By CHARLES BABINGTON, Associated Press
PURCELLVILLE, Va. (AP) — Undecided voters in swing states hold the key to the presidential election, but neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama has an easy recipe for winning them over.
Friday's new jobs report, even if dismal for incumbent President Obama, might do little to help challenger Romney with this group.
Undecided voters interviewed this week said they place little importance on such statistics, even though both campaigns mine them for every possible advantage.
Instead, these voters want more details about Romney's economic proposals and Bain Capital record, less bickering between the parties and a greater sense of inspiration and leadership from both candidates.
Some of them acknowledge that's a vague wish list. But with less than a dozen states in play, and polls showing that about 10 percent of the electorate remains undecided, this sliver of hard-to-please Americans could decide the Nov. 6 election.
Scott Davison, who works at a bicycle shop in Purcellville, Va., is typical of on-the-fence voters interviewed this week in Virginia, Ohio and Florida. Romney has a chance to dissuade him from his inclination toward Obama, Davison said, but the former Massachusetts governor must offer more details about how he would improve the economy.
"I'm not seeing anything substantial that Romney has to offer," said Davison, 40, who lives in politically competitive Loudoun County. "I'm just seeing superficial stuff."
Davison, who studied economics at Colorado State University and weighs his words before speaking, said he puts little campaign stock in monthly employment reports.
Elected officials, he said, "can help steer policy. But it's like the QE2. If you make a change up at the bow, it's going to take miles and miles to turn it around."
Forty miles south, in the Washington exurb of Manassas, Va., Chuck Neal is no fan of Obama, but Romney hasn't locked down his vote. TV ads criticizing Romney's time at the private-equity company Bain Capital have raised questions for Neal, 50, a manager at a busy millworking plant.
Romney has a record of "sending business overseas and taking it away from us," Neal said, reciting a theme from the frequently run ads, which Romney disputes. "We don't have a lot of good choices."
Mike McKenna, a Virginia-based Republican researcher who conducts focus groups of undecided voters nationwide, said he's not surprised by such comments. The barrage of Democratic TV ads attacking Romney's record at Bain, he said, "has done a lot of damage."
Virginia's unemployment rate is well below the national average. But Florida's is not, and the state still suffers from a collapse in housing prices.
Despite those differences, undecided voters in south Florida expressed many of the same sentiments as Virginians: a reluctance to read too much into monthly job reports and a hunger for more information about Romney's business background and economic plans.
Win Hoffman, 81, a retired architect from Lauderhill, said he watches the monthly jobs reports but they don't determine his vote for president.
"Neither candidate and neither party really has that much to say, or that much to do, about the economy," Hoffman said. "Not even the chairman of the Federal Reserve has that much control."
"We can't control Greece and Portugal and Italy," he added.
Hoffman, who registers as a Democrat but considers himself an independent, said he is not impressed by the fortune Romney made directing Bain Capital.
"Business success is often being in the right place at the right time with the right amount of capital," he said. "I'm more impressed with the worldly outlook that a presidential candidate can demonstrate to me — absolute sincerity for the welfare of this country and its citizens. And as of this moment, Governor Romney doesn't project that kind of attitude as much as President Obama does."
Hoffman said he is not personally affected by the economic slump. That's not the case, however, for Doris Morgan, 58, of Venice, Fla.
She was a social worker and administrative assistant before quitting work to care for her aging parents. She is now unable to find work outside of low-paying retail and restaurant jobs.