Latest Polls Show Presidential Race Closer Than Ever

President Obama; photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama delivers pizzas to a campaign office in Williamsburg, Va., in a visit Sunday with workers. Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

With just over three weeks to go, it would be tough for this presidential race to get any tighter.

Fresh polls show President Obama holding a lead within the margin of error over his Republican rival Mitt Romney and with little breathing room in some key swing states.

The former Massachusetts governor has made up critical ground when it comes to likability, an issue he had to improve upon to win. Past surveys had shown Romney was the least likable GOP nominee in history.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found Mr. Obama leading Romney, 49 percent to 46 percent, among likely voters with a 3.5 percent margin of error. That survey indicated that just barely one in eight voters is undecided or considering changing his or her mind.

The biggest shift is among Romney backers who now have more enthusiasm for the Republican nominee, with 70 percent telling the pollster that the first debate made them think more highly of Romney.

Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write:

The improvement in views of Romney carries directly into the underpinnings of his support: Fewer of his supporters now express anxiety about a Romney administration, and the number of his backers saying they support him “very enthusiastically” jumped by double digits. Among the likely voters supporting Romney, 62 percent now do so intensely, exactly double the number who were eagerly lined up behind Republican nominee John McCain at this stage in the campaign four years ago.

Meanwhile, enthusiasm for the president has also ticked higher, but it remains below where it was four years ago. Of course, at this time in October 2008, Obama held a 10-percentage-point lead over the Republican senator from Arizona. In the new poll, a three-point edge does not represent a statistically significant advantage.

Beyond enthusiasm, Obama lags behind 2008 in assembling a winning coalition because groups of voters highly likely to back his candidacy — including Democrats, non-whites and younger voters — are far less interested in the campaign this time around.

Deep into the article is an interesting statistic that emphasizes the grassroots activity in swing states. They write: “About 37 percent of voters in the eight key states — the seven Post ‘tossup’ states plus Ohio — say they’ve heard from an Obama campaign representative in the past month; 27 percent in those states say they have been contacted by one of Romney’s.”

A Politico/George Washington University battleground poll of likely voters conducted last week found the president leading Romney, 49 percent to 48 percent. That’s made possible by an eight-point lead among independents. The survey had a 3.1 percent margin of error.

“Obama and Romney are now essentially tied on likability: 53 percent of those surveyed have a positive impression of Obama personally, and 45 percent do not. The same number view both Romney and Obama strongly favorably as view them strongly unfavorably,” writes James Hohmann.

Public Policy Polilng released two new battleground state surveys over the weekend. The left-leaning pollster’s automated survey found a five-point gain for Romney in Florida, where he topped the president, 49 percent to 48 percent, and a small boost for the Republican in North Carolina, where he led, 49 percent to 47 percent.

“This now makes 26 out of 27 times polling the race in North Carolina that PPP has found Obama and Romney within three points of each other,” PPP wrote.

As both men hunkered down for the final stages of preparation for Tuesday’s debate, Team Obama released a nasty memo attempting to define the race on its terms. Campaign manager Jim Messina focused on Romney’s changing positions:

The real Mitt Romney has been running on his “severely conservative” positions for years, but now – just weeks before Election Day – he’s trying to hide them because they’ll hurt the middle class and his chances of winning.

We saw this clearly in the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, as Governor Romney cynically and dishonestly hid the self-described “severely conservative” positions he’s been running on – and there’s no doubt he’s memorizing more deceptions as he prepares for Tuesday’s second debate.

The rest of the memo includes “sample” Q-and-A’s from voters to tee up the town-hall-style debate forum. Read the memo in full here.


The NewsHour took a look Friday at how both campaigns are seeking to win over female voters and examined reaction to the debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan. We started here with a debate wrap, and then Jeffrey Brown talked with two pollsters, Celinda Lake on the left and Kellyanne Conway on the right.

Lake’s take:

[I]f you look at women overall, who will in the end I think be the ultimate swing vet and the decisive vote, you saw them give the highest rating to any comment that Joe Biden made last night to his response on a woman’s right to choose, and give Paul Ryan the lowest ratings that he had on his answer on a woman’s right to choose.

And I think that Biden was very strong when he said this is not a decision — it’s personal decision. It is not a place that politicians and governments should interfere.

The other thing you saw very, very strong among women voters for the Democrats was the strong statement about the middle class. Women don’t want to hear a bunch of statistics, a bunch of acronyms. They want to know, what are you doing to help my family? How are these economic programs going to create jobs in my community, create higher-wage jobs for my husband and myself, or my partner, and give our children a future?

Conway’s point:

It is absolutely correct that the next president and vice president will be decided ultimately by women.

But it’s absolutely a false premise to believe that there are — quote — “women’s issues,” and that they all have to do with, you know, waist down. What about waist up, where our brains and our hearts and our eyes and our ears are?

And I think 2010 really proved it. That’s where, two short years after 56 percent of women gave a stratospheric — Barack Obama, 56 percent of the vote was unheard of for a non-incumbent.

The pollsters quipped after the segment that they “need a sequel” to the 2005 book they co-wrote, “What Women Really Want.”

Watch the full conversation here or below:

NewsHour online politics production assistant Meena Ganesan rounded up the most popular search terms during the vice presidential debate. Here’s a hint: How old are Biden and Ryan?


Mark Shields and David Brooks revisited the vice presidential debate Friday night and, like any diligent sports fans, suggested President Obama watch tape in preparation for Tuesday.

“Joe Biden in October made the case for Barack Obama and his record and his administration better than Barack Obama has,” Shields said.

Brooks reiterated his skepticism of the performance, however. “If anybody came on the NewsHour and behaved the way Biden did, we would kick them off in the middle of the set. It is just not what discussions should be like,” he said.

He also called on Romney to continue his push toward bipartisanship and for President Obama to “lay out more of a division” on Tuesday.

Watch their chat with Judy here or below.

Doubleheader here or below.


The fighter of the Senate lost his last fight Sunday. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter died at age 82 after years of battling illnesses. Remembered as a statesman by colleagues far and wide on Sunday, Specter leaves behind a legacy of coalition-building during an era of hard-scrabble politics that allowed him to escape partisan pigeon holes.

Former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell remembers the man as a Pennsylvania force only outmatched by Benjamin Franklin, writes the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The NewsHour resurfaced this video of Specter in a 2005 interview with Gwen Ifill, in which she pressed the then-Republican judiciary committee chairman on his often-controversial stances during Supreme Court nomination hearings. The interview fell on the eve of future Chief Justice John Roberts’ time before the Senate.

Philly Mag’s 2006 “Oral History of Arlen Specter” is also worth a read as it asks the statesman’s friends and colleagues what made the man so “Specterian”.

Vice President Biden plans to attend the funeral.


Monday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA notes that green energy pushes have generated “comparatively few jobs.”

The nonpartisan organization found: “From 2003 to 2010, the rate of annual job growth in renewable energy fields was 3.1 percent. Clean energy ventures — hydro power, wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, and more — employed 138,364 people in 2010, compared to 1.3 million working in the oil, natural gas, and coal industries.”


-Questions about Tuesday’s presidential debate? Christina will answer them in a Twitter chat Monday at 2:30 p.m. ET. Use the #pbselection hashtag.

  • The New York Times’ Dan Barry took readers inside Donna’s Diner in Elyria, Ohio. The beautifully written piece profiled the owner and its patrons in the heart of a crucial swing state. Take the time to read the opening story. And here is part two.
  • NewsHour cconomics correspondent Paul Solman took an intensive look at the presidential prediction markets on Friday. Here is his blog post explaining why Mr. Obama is still the heavy favorite — on the markets at least.
  • Both campaigns have expressed concern over Candy Crowley’s approach to the town hall-style presidential debate Tuesday, adding to the discussion about the role of a moderator.
  • Jason Horowitz of the Washington Post reports on the Marriott hotel chain and discovers that when the candidate is Romney, he approves this hotel.
  • On Thursday, the president will make his sixth appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”
  • Buzzfeed buzzes about the myth of George Romney’s spontaneity, its influence on his son Mitt and years of false reports of him walking out of the 1964 Republican National Convention.
  • “Four tea party-backed House candidates in New York used sharp criticism of President Obama to secure election in 2010. Two years later, his mere presence on the ballot may jeopardize their prospects,” writes Tom Kludt of Talking Points Memo.
  • Republicans are fighting libertarian nominee Gary Johnson’s place on some ballots.
  • The Obama campaign’s latest television ad release spotlights voters talking about the economy.
  • Nielsen said that 51.4 million people watched the vice presidential debate last week, down from the 69.9 million who watched the Biden-Sarah Palin faceoff in 2008.
  • SNL did the VP debate.
  • Is it the “Hey” subject line of the right? Romney picks up a punchy colloquialism of youth for a new ad, notes Hunter Schwarz of Buzzfeed.
  • Ryan and his pro-life backstory of calling his daughter “Bean”: Too similar to a Kurt Cobain tale? AmericaBlog asks.
  • Romney can count on one Hollywood star’s vote.
  • Nieman Lab loves our Ad Libs game. Try it here to create your own political attack or character-boosting ad.



  • When does Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill say “Missouree” and “Missouruh”? Sarah Wheaton of the New York Times writes about political calculations behind the Show-Me State’s linguistic flip-floppers.
  • The House ethics committee is looking into “unspecified ethics violations by Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), but the case may be related to charges that he used his office to enrich himself and family members,” Roll Call’s Amanda Becker reports.
  • Roll Call’s Joshua Miller reports that the National Republican Congressional Committee is launching more than $6 million worth of television ads in competitive House districts. (But he also writes that the NRCC was outraised by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in September.)
  • New York Magazine profiles Jeb Bush and also reveals some fun facts about his brother’s current hobbies.
  • The Boston Globe checks in on donors to GOP Sen. Scott Brown and his challenger, Democrat Elizabeth Warren.
  • House Majority PAC launches a harsh ad against Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado and in support of embryonic stem cell research.
  • Ryan is fundraising for Senate hopeful Tommy Thompson in his home state.


All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Paul Ryan holds a town hall in Waukesha, Wis., at 9:45 a.m. and a rally in Cincinnati at 12:30 p.m.
  • Michelle Obama speaks at campaign events in Delaware, Ohio, at 2:45 p.m. and Cleveland at 5:45 p.m.
  • Ann Romney attends a rally in Elizabethtown, Pa., at 3:30 p.m.
  • President Obama has no scheduled public events.
  • Mitt Romney has no scheduled public events.
  • Vice President Biden has no scheduled public events.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @kpolantz, @indiefilmfan, @tiffanymullon, @dePeystah, @meenaganesan and @abbruns.

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