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Presidential race too close to call ahead of second debate

Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney goes head-to-head against President Obama on the debating floor again on Tuesday. Photo: Reuters/Jim Bourg

Has President Obama halted the Mitt Romney charge? Has the Republican surge in the polls begun to dissipate?

If we look at the latest surveys in the crucial battleground state of Ohio, the evidence is a little murky.

One poll shows the President with a five point lead:

Ohio (Public Policy Polling):

  • Obama 51%
  • Romney 46%

Others suggest a much narrower gap. A poll of polls judges Romney now to be just one point behind, a major improvement for the Republican candidate.

It is probably still true this year, as in previous election cycles, that if Mitt Romney is to win the White House he must win Ohio and its 18 electoral college votes.

And this is the key point: Obama seems to be doing better in Ohio than elsewhere. That may be because he saved the car industry with his bail-out of Detroit (a decision that rescued many jobs in Ohio too).

And his campaign is widely known to have a superb ground operation in Ohio, left in place after he won the state by five points in 2008. This time it is staffed with the most experienced operatives. They are campaign managers who won't easily panic.

President Obama greets supporters in Newport on Saturday. Credit: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

So as the two candidates prepare for their next debate, both men can take some encouragement from the political landscape.

Romney is on a roll, improving his national poll numbers quite dramatically, witnessing bigger crowds and with the wind in his sails.

Obama believes the Romney bounce may have peaked, he has a firewall in Ohio (although a second poor debate and that could be breached), and he has a new and more aggressive strategy to confront Romney head-on.

Romney was deemed by many as the clear winner in the first debate. Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed

So Tuesday night's debate is shaping up to be vital.

One Democrat I spoke to today in Virginia put it this way: "Obama screwed up in the first debate. The President now has a second chance. He must take it - the voters won't give him a third chance."

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