WASHINGTON — New polls suggest President Barack Obama has opened a clear lead in his re-election race over Mitt Romney, raising the stakes for the Republican challenger in a crucial month for his campaign.
Obama is ahead nationally and in most of the dozen swing states that will decide the November 6 election, as Romney prepares for two pivotal moments -- his selection of a running mate and his primetime convention speech.
Several days of polling suggests that the Democratic incumbent's attempt to fix and image of Romney in the minds of voters as a rich businessman oblivious to the struggles of the middle class may be working.
And they also indicate that, while Americans are in a ornery mood after years of economic pain and do not expect Obama to offer immediate relief, they have an increasingly unfavorable view of his opponent Romney.
A Fox News national poll on Thursday put Obama ahead, at 49 percent to 40 percent over Romney while a CNN poll had Obama at 52 percent, seven points up on the former Massachusetts governor.
A Pew Research poll last week had Obama up by 10 points.
The polls follow a punishing few weeks for Romney, who has been pummeled by the Obama camp's negative advertizing blitz, had his tax plan and personal tax arrangements savaged and endured bad headlines for a foreign trip.
Obama's gains appear to reflect improved ratings among the independent voters who often tip the scales in US elections.
CNN had Obama up by 53 percent to 42 percent among this subset of voters, while Fox News had the president up by 11 percentage points among independents, up from a four percent lead last month.
"The events of the past two weeks appear to have energized Democratic voters a bit," Fox News quoted its pollster Daron Shaw as saying.
"The Obama campaign has -- at least in the short-term -- succeeded in raising questions about Romney's fitness to govern and in making this less of a referendum and more of a choice election."
In the CNN poll, 48 percent of those asked had an unfavorable view of Romney, up six points from last month. The Fox poll had Romney's unfavorables at 45 percent, up five percent on last month.
National polls, while useful snapshots of political opinion, do not tell the full story of the presidential race, which is a state-by-state battle to pile up the 270 electoral college votes needed for victory.
But polls in those critical states that swing between Democrats and Republicans, also show Obama in the lead, albeit with much smaller margins than in the national polls.
Averages of recent polls by RealClearPolitics.com show Obama up by five points in Ohio, three points in Virginia, 1.5 points in Florida, a percentage point in Iowa, and five points in Nevada.
Three months before the November 6 election, Obama also leads in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire and Colorado.
Romney is ahead in Missouri and North Carolina.
Should these forecasts be confirmed in the general election, the president's tally of electoral votes would come in at around 330.
While the latest figures look rosy for Obama, his campaign still expects the race, dominated by the lagging economy, to be close. Campaign managers are much more focused on battleground state polls than snapshots of the national race.
Romney also has ample time to change the narrative. He will get saturation media coverage when he unveils the identity of his vice presidential nominee. An announcement is expected within days.
At the end of August, Romney will have his single most important chance to make an unfiltered connection with the American people, when he accepts the Republican nomination at the party's nomination convention in Tampa, Florida.
Then, he will have the chance to press his case against Obama, and to lambast the president over his economic management, with unemployment at 8.3 percent, in three televised debates scheduled for October.
Conventional wisdom meanwhile has it that American voters do not tune in seriously to the election until Labor Day at the beginning of September.
Romney's growing financial advantage over Obama may also come into play in the final two months, when the president can expect a barrage of negative advertizing from the challenger and allied fundraising committees.
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