Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is entering his final debate with President Obama tonight showing continued momentum from his initial debate triumph early this month while Obama is showing signs of struggling to hang on to his lead in a handful of key battle ground states in the Midwest and the South.
Romney and Obama will clash over foreign policy during a 90-minute encounter in Boca Raton, Fla. this evening, offering the two men their last opportunity in a high profile nationally televised forum to make their case for serving in the White House for the next four years.
With just two weeks to go before the election, a late surge in support for Romney has put him in a dead heat with Obama, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Sunday. Among likely voters, the candidates are now tied 47 percent to 47 percent in a race that appears on track to be one of the closest in U.S. history.
After dominating a lethargic Obama during their first debate in Denver Oct. 3 and then going toe to toe with the president in a hard fought and often nasty town-hall style debate at Hofstra University in New York last Tuesday night, Romney has pulled abreast of the president. For the first time all year in the Journal poll Romney has erased a three-point lead among likely voters that Obama had in late September and a five-point lead earlier that month.
Polls can be directional, but they’re rarely accurate measurements of how voters are likely to cast ballots, especially since many have voted early. As of late last week, most of the national polls showed Obama and Romney neck and neck or the president holding a modest lead. The Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll, taken from a sample online, had Obama leading by three points on Friday and for much of last week. A Public Policy Polling daily survey had Obama leading by one point, the Rand tracking poll put him ahead by three points and the Rasmussen poll showed the two candidates to be tied.
The one outlier is Gallup's daily tracking poll of likely voters, which has Romney leading Obama by seven percentage points, 52 percent to 45 percent. There are many possible reasons for variations. For one, Gallup's tracking poll relies on a seven-day rolling average, so it may still be registering a surge that Romney gained after his strong debate showing on October 3, but before Obama began to make a comeback. Another is that its methodology for determining likely voters differs from that of other polling organizations.
The energized Romney-Ryan campaign says it is seeing many positive signs that it has overtaken or surpassed Obama nationally while putting the heat on the president in a handful of battleground states -- including Ohio, Florida and Virginia -- that the president is strongly counting on.
"I like what I see, because the trend is in our direction," Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a top surrogate for the Romney campaign who helped him prepare for all three debate, said on Sunday. "The enthusiasm and energy are on our side."
The Obama team acknowledges that the race has tightened considerably since Obama's mediocre debate performance the University of Denver -- one that Obama joked that he napped through. They note that Obama is running ahead in early voting in many states and they are counting on a strong turnout of the Democratic base and gaining a substantial share of the undecided voters to eke out a victory on Election Day, Nov. 6.
"We feel good about where we are. We feel we're even or ahead in these battleground states," said senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod about the new poll numbers.
Florida is the largest competitive state with 29 electoral votes, and Romney supporters say they have noticed a substantial change in voter attitudes since the first debate, when Romney spelled out his economic and energy policies and sought to reassure seniors that his Medicare reforms were targeted to younger Americans. According to RealClearPolitics, Florida polls on average show Romney ahead of Obama by 2.1 percentage points.
"We like the way Florida's going," said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of the movement in Romney's direction. "We've always predicted it would go this way."
Regardless of what the national polls are showing, the race will come down to which candidate can amass 270 or more electoral vote. And, for the first time, Romney is leading Obama in that competition, 206 to 201, according to an analysis by RealClearPolitics. That analysis shows that 131 electoral votes are still considered tossups, in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
The RealClearPolitics analysis of the average polling results in those states currently shows Obama ahead in Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin, Romney ahead in Florida and New Hampshire and a tossup in Virginia and Colorado.