Conflict & Justice

Polish Americans for Romney?

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US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his wife Ann, and Warsaw Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz visit the Warsaw Uprising Monument in Warsaw. (Photo: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel)

Modern campaigning has turned into a science of sorts. Political strategists slice and dice the electorate into smaller and smaller groups targeting messages to specific populations.

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Barack Obama's web site lists 20 groups that support the president. There are the ones you'd expect: African Americans, Latinos, and women for Obama. From there, it gets more specific, including the groups nurses, sportsmen, and Catholics for Obama.

Mitt Romney's campaign web site lists 17 communities that support the Republican presidential candidate. Many are the same as on President Obama's web site. But there's also Romney Voters for Free Enterprise, Farmers and Ranchers for Romney, and then, Polish Americans for Romney.

"Polish Americans are microtargeted right now because they're in the suburbs north of Chicago and certainly in the Milwaukee suburbs," said David King, a senior lecturer in public policy with Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. "Milwaukee is very much in play, so a little movement among Polish Americans there may matter."

According to the Census, 526,000 people in the key battleground state of Wisconsin report Polish ancestry. All but 5,000 of them were born in the United States.

I called up the National Bakery in Milwaukee to try and speak with some Polish Americans. The National Bakery is a local institution famous for its paczkis, jelly donuts with a Polish twist. The manager there passed the phone to 76-year-old Marlene Witas, a daily customer for a dozen years since her retirement.

Witas was born in Wisconsin but grew up hearing Polish at home. I asked her about the group 'Polish Americans for Romney.'

"Mitt Romney has a Polish backing?" she responded.

I explained about the web site, then asked Witas how she feels having her community specially recognized by the Romney campaign.

"I guess I would say good, they recognize African Americans, Latinos, and…" So why not Polish Americans too?

But while Witas appreciates Romney's effort, she's still voting for President Obama. Though she says two of her four children are Romney supporters. But that's not because of 'Polish Americans for Romney.'

Perhaps Romney's Polish-American strategy is flying under the radar, at least at the National Bakery, because the outreach has little substance.

I asked David King at Harvard to look at the web site, 'Polish Americans for Romney.'

"Oh you're kidding me, it doesn't even link to issues around Poland," said King, upon seeing the site for the first time.

The web page does have a link to Romney's speech in Warsaw from this summer, and it does list Romney's Polish American leadership team. (Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is listed at the top as an Honorary Chairman; Pawlenty has since quit the Romney campaign, but remains a Romney supporter.) Beyond that, however, there's little to show this is a concerted effort to connect with Polish Americans.

"It would be much more effective if the Romney campaign used 'Polish Americans for Romney' to link to testimonials from Polish Americans, maybe speaking in Polish, talking about the importance of US and Polish relationships," said King. "But what they've put up now is a template that they could use for almost any affinity group in America."

King said 'Polish Americans for Romney,' in its current form, won't work. He added that the web page also isn't going to hurt Mitt Romney, but called it a wasted opportunity to connect with more voters.