Early in this election cycle, President Obama's campaign team gambled that he would run fast on a sloppy track; so it engaged in relentless mud-slinging. Obama did run well for the first few furlongs, but his momentum slowed when he turned into the final stretch. Challenger Mitt Romney, who is no stranger to mud-slinging himself, has been coming on strong. He's got the "Big Mo"—momentum. As the contenders sprint to the wire, Romney looks closer to the finish line by a nose.
Romney has been hitting his stride ever since his triumph in the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, in which Obama came across as snide and unprepared. Romney's "Cinderella Man" dominance of that exchange was a shocker: Pundits had predicted that he'd be trampled by Obama, a debating thoroughbred.
Romney's performance impressed many all-important independent voters who'd had no positive impression of him. A focus group of 45 "swing voters" convened in Denver by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg to watch that debate found that Romney came across as a strong, likable leader. In the two subsequent debates, Obama was more aggressive, better prepared and more negative, yet he never fully recovered from his thrashing by Romney in the dramatic first round. As of Oct. 30, both have roughly the same favorable ratings, as computed by the Website www.RealClearPolitics.com: 49.7% for the president, 49.9% for the challenger.
On Oct. 3, the day of the first debate, Obama's favorability was 6.6 points higher than Romney's, reports Larry Sabato, head of the University of Virginia's political science department and originator of Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball Website (www.centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/).