WASHINGTON — Just about everybody agrees Washington is a gridlocked mess. But who's the man to fix it? After two years of brawling and brinkmanship between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans, more voters trust Mitt Romney to break the stalemate, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows.
Romney's message — a vote for Obama is a vote for more gridlock — seems to be getting through. Almost half of likely voters, 47 percent, think the Republican challenger would be better at ending the logjam, compared with 37 percent for Obama.
With the race charging into its final week, Romney is pushing that idea. He increasingly portrays himself as a get-things-done, work-with-everybody pragmatist, in hopes of convincing independent voters that he can overcome Washington's bitter partisanship. The AP-GfK poll shows the race in a virtual dead heat, with Romney at 47 percent to Obama's 45 percent, a difference within the margin of sampling error.
At a rally Wednesday in Coral Gables, Fla., Romney recounted how he worked with the Democratic-led Legislature as governor of Massachusetts and insisted he would find common ground with Democrats in Washington, too: "We can't change course in America if we keep attacking each other. We've got to come together and get America on track again."
Obama made his own show of bipartisanship Wednesday, touring superstorm Sandy devastation alongside Republican Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey. A major Romney supporter, Christie has been praising Obama's "outstanding" response to the natural disaster.
Obama counters the Washington gridlock question by predicting that Republican lawmakers focused on opposing his re-election will become more cooperative once he wins a second term and becomes ineligible to run again. Referring to the top Republicans in Congress, Obama joked he would "wash John Boehner's car" or "walk Mitch McConnell's dog" to help get a federal deficit-cutting deal.
Obama also argues that Romney is more conservative these days than when he was elected governor and will find his newer ideas don't go down easily with Senate Democrats. For example, Romney, who worked with legislators to pass a health care overhaul in Massachusetts, has vowed to repeal the Democrats' similar national health care law.
In the AP-GfK poll, about 1 out of 6 likely voters didn't take a side on the gridlock issue: 6 percent weren't sure who would do a better job at getting Washington moving and 10 percent didn't trust either man to break the impasse among congressional partisans.
"They all need to be taken by the ear by a grandma," voter Margaret Delaney, 65, said in frustration.
She lives in Janesville, Wis., the hometown of Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, and she's leaning toward voting for the GOP ticket. But when it comes to ending gridlock, Delaney thinks it may not matter whether Romney or Obama is president.
"I'm not sure either of them can do it," she said.
A political standoff last year came close to forcing the government to default on its bills and led Standard & Poor's to downgrade the United States' credit rating. Over the past two years, a Congress split between Republican and Democratic leadership posted one of the least productive sessions in history.
When lawmakers return after Election Day for a lame-duck session, they need to work together with Obama to solve some festering troubles, including the "fiscal cliff" — a looming combination of higher taxes and spending cuts that could trigger another recession if Congress doesn't find a resolution.
If re-elected, Obama will almost certainly face another two years or more of divided government. Polling in the states suggests Republicans are likely to keep the control of the U.S. House that they won in 2010. And tea partyers who stymied efforts to reach a deficit-reduction deal seem certain to remain a substantial presence.
There's a good chance that a President Romney would face a split Congress, as well. Democrats appear to have an edge in holding onto their Senate majority, especially if the presidential race remains close. At least a dozen of the 33 Senate races remain competitive, making the overall outcome tough to predict.
Obama also likes to remind Democrats and like-minded independent voters that he serves as a check on congressional Republicans. The president suggests Romney would be unwilling to stand up to "the more extreme parts of his party."
Leigh Westholm of Pensacola, Fla., said that's why she supports Obama's re-election even though she doesn't think he will be able to make peace with House Republicans.
"It takes two to tango and he has tried and tried for four years," Westholm said. "It might be better for Romney, but I don't agree with his views."
But Romney supporter Gary Bivins, a 57-year-old West Chester, Ohio, retiree volunteering in his first presidential campaign, says don't blame Congress.
A president needs the ability to lead, he said, and "I think Obama has shown no skill in that area."
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 19-23 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,186 adults nationwide, including 839 likely voters. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, for likely voters it is 4.2 points.
AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and AP writers Todd Richmond in Wisconsin, Melissa Nelson-Gabriel in Pensacola, Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and Kasie Hunt in Florida contributed to this report. The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .
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