The latest public-opinion polls suggest this year’s U.S. presidential election could be a very close contest between President Barack Obama and his presumed Republican challenger, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Several recent national surveys show the Obama-Romney race either tied or give a slight advantage to the president. For example, recent Gallup daily tracking polls have shown the race tied at 46 percent each for Mr. Obama and Romney.
The polls also show that the economy will be the top issue in this year’s campaign and that means the president will have to spend a lot of time defending his record.
Ken Duberstein served as chief of staff to former President Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s.
“An incumbent president always has an advantage," said Duberstein. "But for Barack Obama he also now has an economy that clearly is not perking along very well. The American people almost always vote their pocketbooks. If I were the Obama people I would be praying for better economic news over the next seven months.”
Democrats are well aware of the public’s discontent over the domestic economy.
One of the main Obama campaign strategies is to make the election not simply a referendum on the president’s first three years in office, but a choice between his view of where to take the country and the one offered by Mr. Romney. He has vowed to repeal the president’s sweeping health care reform law and to rein in the power of the federal government.
Differences over the power and size of government are expected to be central to the election debate this year, says political analyst Rhodes Cook.
“People have a real choice in this election as they have for the last few elections," said Cook. "It is not the case that it does not matter who you elect to the White House. It makes a big difference who you elect in terms of the philosophy of government that you will get.”
The Romney campaign is expected to focus on the president’s economic record and emphasize Mr. Romney’s business background.
The president’s supporters will point to some improvements in the national economy as evidence that the administration has the country on the right track.
They will also try to depict former governor Romney as wanting to return to Republican economic policies that got the country in trouble in the first place.
Gallup pollster Frank Newport predicts a close election in November. He says the president is better liked in the matchup with Mr. Romney, but adds many voters still have doubts about the president’s ability to handle the economy.
“Somehow you connect with them or not and that can make a difference, and on that Barack Obama has a decided advantage," said Newport. "So he has those kind of softer dimensions tied up. Mitt Romney is viewed as a colder, more calculating person. But what the Romney campaign will attempt to do is turn that into a plus and say, yeah, he may not be your favorite warm, fuzzy friend, but he is an efficient manager of government. That is what they want to say and he can handle the economy.”
Four years ago, Mr. Obama defeated Republican candidate John McCain by a comfortable margin in the popular vote and in the state-by-state Electoral College vote that determines who will win the White House.
This year experts are predicting a much closer election along the lines of 2000 and 2004. And they say the contest will probably be decided by the results in about a dozen closely-contested battleground states where the outcome remains in doubt.