Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

2012 could swing on the 'Walmart Moms'


The change Barack Obama campaigned on four years ago is a distant memory for some of the country's most important voters.

This is today's America for the "Walmart Moms" who could decide next year's presidential election: No more vacations, finding as much overtime as possible, forgoing movies and dinners out, juggling credit cards, gathering Sunday newspapers for their coupons, cutting cable service and sometimes giving blood for a few extra bucks. It means praying, literally in some cases, your refrigerator or car doesn't break down, or God forbid, you incur serious medical bills.

"What's happening here?" asked Jesse, mother of three. "We're just going backwards, not forward. You really feel like, 'Do I really want to live in the United States?' I know a lot of people who have moved to Costa Rica or Panama because of the U.S. economy."

Kimberly, a single mother of two living with parents who are fast draining their lifetime savings, has taken to teaching her 4- and 5-year-old sons to gather aluminum cans. "Santa is poor this year,'' she's already warned the boys.

In a nondescript office park outside Orlando, the fragility of Obama's re-election prospects were on full display one night last week at a focus group organized by Democratic pollster Margie Omero and Republican pollster Neil Newhouse. Ten mothers in their 20s and 30s gathered around a conference table, sharing their outlook on life, leadership and America heading into the 2012 election.

To call them anxious and frustrated would be a giant understatement.

Moderator Alex Bratty asked for one word to describe the state of the country. "Depressing," "sour," "bad," came the responses.

"Once you get behind you can't get caught up. Two months behind takes you a year. … You just can't get back to being in front of the ball, instead of behind it,'' said home-schooling mom Cheryl, who had expected to move into a better school district but can't because she's way underwater on her mortgage.

Just as political professionals used to obsess about "Soccer Moms" or "NASCAR Dads," these Walmart Moms are drawing loads of attention heading into 2012.

Watching these women for 90 minutes behind a one-way mirror was variously depressing — no short-term optimism, daily fear that they could lose their jobs at any moment — and uplifting — struggling, working and middle-class moms still keeping their humor and counting their blessings.

"These are the ones who are on the economic front lines in the country. They are generally late deciders, evenly split in partisanship and Obama really needs to win them back to win election," said Newhouse, the Republican pollster. "There's a sense among these women that they've kind of lost control of their financial situation. They are no longer in power to take control anymore and they are living right on the precipice."

Walmart Moms make up roughly 16 percent of the electorate. About two-thirds are white and roughly half have household incomes of less than $50,000 annually. In 2008 the group favored Obama over John McCain and in 2010 they swung to the GOP.

Their feeling about Obama now? "Indifferent,'' summed up one mom.

"What we were going through at that time (Obama's election) was bound to get worse. You could have the most beautiful speeches and you could promise so many things, but he's only a man," said Sylvia, mother of a 3-year-old and 6-month-old.

It's not that these women dislike him or blame him or have given up on him. But he's been not getting the job done. They are looking for bipartisan compromise, but they're also for strong leadership and passion. They don't see it in Obama, and patience is waning.

"I don't feel like he is being strong enough," said Cheryl. "He does have good ideas but I don't think he pushes them through."

At the same time, they are only vaguely aware of the Republican field and could name only a few of the GOP candidates. When you're consumed with trying to keep the electricity on and affording healthy lunches for the kids, watching debates and following daily campaign coverage is off the agenda.

Anger is the not the word to describe their mood heading into 2012. But bitterness is part of it.

"It is frustrating," said Sarah, mother of a 3-year-old girl. "The banks got bailed out, and they're the ones who started all this. They get bailed out, and they're all fine and dandy. We're the little people, and you just want a little bit of a break and we just can't get it. There is never anything in this country anymore that is trying to help us."

Nods all around the table.

Their hostility toward Congress is clear. They spoke of Democrats and Republicans dug in, fixated on their own agenda, and completely clueless about what working-class Americans are going through. If only these people in Washington could be forced to spend two months living their lives, one mother mused.

"All you hear about is they can't agree on anything to get things passed. ... It's all about their party or their ideology,'' Kimberly said. "We're in a very delicate state as a country, and it's very urgent that something be done."

Still, the buck stops with the president.

"He should be the moderator. He should be the one to have the parties come together,'' said Elizabeth. "There's no one to hold their feet to the fire. You want someone who's passionate about the country, about getting things done. You want some to say (to Republicans), 'I don't care what you say about me, what I care about is Jane Doe on Main Street who can't afford her electric bill.' "

"I'm looking for someone with a passion, with a fire," Kimberly agreed, "someone who really believes in the America we used to be."

Adam C. Smith can be reached at

2012 could swing on the 'Walmart Moms' 10/08/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 7, 2011 5:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Joe Maddon gets warm reception in return to the Trop

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The night was arranged to honor former Rays manager Joe Maddon in his first visit back to the Trop, and the warm response from the bipartisan crowd and scoreboard video tribute were proper acknowledgments of his hefty role in the Rays' success during his nine-year stint.

    Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon (70) talks with reporters during a press conference before the start of the game between the Chicago Cubs and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017.
  2. Three-hour police standoff ends, thanks to a cigarette


    TAMPA — A man threatening to harm himself was arrested by Tampa police on Tuesday after a three-hour standoff.

  3. Jones: Rays' Kevin Cash doesn't mind following in Joe Maddon's steps

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — On this particular night, he's the other guy. He's like a talk-show guest scooted to the end of the couch. He is Kevin Cash. And the Rays manager is standing in the home dugout at Tropicana Field.

    ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 17: Manager Kevin Cash (L) of the Tampa Bay Rays reacts to action during the game against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field on September 17, 2017 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images) 700012494
  4. 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 139, collapses buildings in Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 139 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped.

    A woman is lifted on a stretcher from of a building that collapsed during an earthquake in Mexico City, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. [Rebecca Blackwell | Associated Press]
  5. Hurricane Maria's winds hit 175 mph as it aims at Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands


    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Maria barreled toward Puerto Rico on Tuesday night after wreaking widespread devastation on Dominica and leaving the small Caribbean island virtually …

    A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]