Barack Obama's lead over Mitt Romney narrowing

Barack Obama holds a narrow lead over Mitt Romney, according to a recent poll. Photo: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Hours ahead of the first presidential debate, President Barack Obama maintains a narrow lead over Republican Mitt Romney, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

Obama is ahead of Romney by three points among likely voters, 49 percent to 46 percent.

But here's the headline: The race is narrowing with less than five weeks to go. A fortnight ago the same poll had them 5 points apart. Now its down to 3 points and within the margin of error. The latest polling will make for a nervous, high-stakes October.

What's the key to Obama's fragile lead? He is struggling with white, rural voters but he leads Romney with African Americans (95 percent to 3 percent), Latinos (winning 70%), and women (56 percent to 40 percent).

Romney still has a shot at victory, but it has to start tonight. He has to be the man with the plan; he has to show empathy and authority.

The Republicans will also have to win the Spin Room war that will break out the moment the candidates walk off the stage. The odds are stacked against Mitt Romney. But it's not Mission Impossible. If Republicans are only narrowly losing after a terrible September, imagine how they might do if Mitt Romney really excels tonight at the debate.