Mitt Romney gets post-debate boost in the polls. Will it last?

Mitt Romney is moving ahead in the first public opinion polls taken since his debate with President Obama. But there are two more debates and a month to go until Election Day, and the race remains close.

Brian Snyder/REUTERS
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney greets audience members at a campaign rally in St. Petersburg, Florida Friday, October 5, 2012.

Everybody agrees that Mitt Romney won this week’s debate with President Obama. Apparently, so do the first public opinion polls since then.

A Reuters/Ipsos online tracking poll released Friday has Romney drawing four points closer to Obama than he had been just before the debate – just two points behind now at 44-46.

Asked if they felt better about the candidates after Wednesday night’s debate, 30 percent of those surveyed said “yes” about Romney compared to just 14 percent for Obama.

The Rasmussen polling organization’s first post-debate survey has Ohio a virtual draw with Obama holding just a one-point lead. Rasmussen also has Romney moving into a two point lead in Florida.

In the 11 key states Obama won in 2008 (Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin), which provide more than half the electoral votes needed to win the election, the president is ahead 50-45, according to Rasmussen’s daily tracking poll. Still, “Romney now earns his highest level of support this year.”

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In Colorado, according to figures out Friday by the Gravis Marketing research firm, Obama went from a 4.7 point lead (50.2 to 45.5) last September to a position 3.4 points behind Romney (45.9 to 49.3) after the debate.

For all the morning-after critique of the contenders’ first debate, Democratic strategist James Carville probably said it best: “Romney looked like he wanted to be there. Obama didn’t.”

But it wasn’t just the body language that was judged to Romney’s advantage, but his message.

Romney, who declared himself “severely conservative” during the primaries, has tacked sharply leftward into the moderate middle – at least the moderate middle allowed in today’s GOP as molded and fashioned by social conservatives and the tea party.

Those who, in fact, are consistently and for the most part severely conservative don’t seem to mind Romney’s new-found moderation.

During the primaries, former US Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado backed Herman Cain and then Rick Santorum.

“I am certainly a partisan and certainly a committed activist, but getting rid of Obama overwhelms everything,” he told Politico. “We can’t worry now about the nettlesome aspects of Romney’s positions on some things.”

In three key areas, Romney has moved to position himself as a centrist: He says he wouldn’t deport young illegal immigrants given a chance to stay in the United States by Obama; he’s playing up the health care program (with its individual mandate) that was his signature accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts; and rhetorically at least, he’s backed away from his own tax plan.

He even acknowledged that government regulation “is essential.”

“I mean, you have to have regulations so that you can have an economy work,” he declared (as if he’d been saying it all along).

In a rare display of contrition, Romney also told Fox News Thursday that his comment about the “47 percent” of the electorate he seemed to write off in a private meeting with campaign donors was “completely wrong.”

The question between now and Nov. 6 is whether independent and undecided voters (especially suburban women) see all this as the logical and expected shift from primary season base-building to general election campaigning or as an insincere flip-flop.
It wasn’t long ago that conservative columnist Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal was calling the Romney campaign “incompetent,” then revising that to term it a “rolling calamity.”

How does she see things after this week’s debate?

“The impact of the first debate is going to be bigger than we know,” she wrote. “It's going to affect thinking more than we know, and it's going to start showing up in the polls, including in the battlegrounds, more dramatically than we guess.... this whole race is on the move again, it's in play again, and it's going to get fun.”

The one bright spot for Obama this week came with the September jobs figures, including an unemployment rate that dipped from 8.1 percent to 7.8 percent.

Will it make a difference?

An Associated Press analysis points out that the trend line for Obama now looks more like Ronald Reagan’s in his successful re-election in 1984 than Jimmy Carter’s in his losing effort in 1980.

Carter lost his re-election bid to Reagan in 1980 as unemployment climbed from 6 percent in October 1979 to 7.5 percent in October 1980; four years later, Reagan won re-election with a jobless rate of 7.3 percent in September of that year, after dropping from 8 percent nine months earlier.

“It gives Obama a talking point, something to get people’s attention off his debate performance,” Bruce Bartlett, an economist in former president George H.W. Bush’s administration, told the AP. “As long as people are seeing improvement, at least some voters are going to say to themselves, ‘Well, best not to switch horses in the middle of the stream.’”

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