What Are the Best Next Steps for Romney and Obama?

The Republican strategist and Democratic pollster in their biweekly face-off about Election 2012

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Left; Jim Watson / AFP / Getty Images: Carolyn Kaster / AP

Left; Repulican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addresses the Newspaper Association of America in Washington, DC, April 4, 2012 and President Barack Obama speaks at The Associated Press luncheon during the ASNE Convention, Tuesday, April 3, 2012, in Washington.

Penn: President Barack Obama has some key advantages that he should press in the battle against Mitt Romney, the likely Republican nominee. First, a gender gap is emerging with Obama leading by as many as 19 points on women’s issues in some polls and holding on to this advantage may be the key to victory. The Republican party has backed itself into a corner when it comes to women’s rights. Therefore Obama should be looking to revive the Violence Against Women Act that needs a constitutional fix, raise equal pay for equal work (even men favor that!) and in general revisit the safeguards that moms need to protect their kids in an increasingly turbulent online world. In 1996, no TV would be manufactured without a v-chip. Today it’s the cell phones and computers that need a v-chip so that parents can let their younger kids use these new technologies without fear about how they can be misused.

Second, Obama has now pulled ahead even among independents and that means that continuing to emphasize that he has a sound approach to balancing fiscal responsibility with our nation’s values and priorities is critical to his re-election. David Brooks may say he went too far in criticizing the Ryan budget, but the truth is that the President is on the right track with the idea that Romney-Ryan is a ticket to electoral oblivion, just as Dole-Gingrich came to stand for unacceptable cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

Third, Obama needs to win the 26% of the electorate whose households earn more than $100,000. He connected with them last time and they were his key to victory in 2008 — his margin twice-over came from this important and growing group of professionals and households with dual incomes. That’s why “Buffett rule” days are as likely to lose him votes as gain them — these voters want to know what Obama is going to do to create new jobs through innovation and by mastering the global economy. That’s where he can retain and even make gains with this group.

Fourth, he should remind the voters that every day he is working to make their lives better. That’s why news like the FCC’s new database to track stolen cell phones and smartphones is not small bore — it’s the kind of thing that shows how the administration is looking out for people and their everyday problems.

Obama has a lot of advantages now as we begin to enter the one-on-one phase of the election and he has to press these advantages to win.

(MORE: How Is Obama Faring Against a Republican Challenge?)

Hughes: Now that Santorum has dropped out of the primary, Romney can seize the opportunity to dramatically expand his campaign to appeal to general election voters. And that’s why I hope he spent Sunday afternoon watching the Masters. Not just because it would be a “regular guy” thing to do. And not just because it was thrilling to watch Bubba Watson, an American who has never even taken a golf lesson, win the sudden death playoff. The reason I hope Romney watched the Masters was to see the commercials. At almost every break, Exxon Mobil’s ads called on Americans to improve our global competitiveness by inspiring students and preparing teachers for more rigorous, college level math and science education. Pointing out that America’s students placed 17th in the world in science and 25th in math in a 2009 global survey, the ads call for a new national commitment: “Let’s solve this.”

Mitt Romney should lead that charge into the general election. Education is the ideal issue to help expand his appeal to women, especially the largely college-educated suburban women that Mark Penn famously identified as “soccer moms.” The way to a soccer mom’s heart is through her children’s education. A recent College Board survey of voters in nine swing states found 75 percent of women ranked education as an issue that is “very important” to them; 70 percent of women who identified themselves as independents described education as “extremely important.” A determined focus on expanding access to high-quality education would also expand Romney’s appeal among Hispanic voters, many of whom disagreed with his pledge to veto the Dream Act and have been turned off by unfortunate rhetoric in the Republican primary.

Romney’s record on education is strong. During his tenure as Governor of Massachusetts, 4th and 8th grade students there moved up to rank number one in the nation in reading and math. His campaign website ties the issue of education to the number one issue in the 2012 campaign — jobs and economic growth. “Global competitiveness begins in the classroom,” it states. As we move toward the general election, I hope we’ll hear a lot more of that from Romney himself and not just his website. In the weeks ahead, Romney has a daunting list of things to do: move quickly to expand his organization, raise money, develop a strategy to win 270 electoral votes, and select a running mate. As he does all that, I hope he’ll put owning the issue of education at the top of his list.

MORE: Election 2012: Can Anyone Stop Romney?