WASHINGTON - In the U.S. presidential race, the latest public opinion polls suggest President Barack Obama has built a modest lead over his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. But analysts say the race remains close as both campaigns prepare for a series of debates beginning October 3.
The most recent nationwide polls show President Barack Obama with a lead over challenger Mitt Romney of between three and seven points.
The surveys were made after the two party conventions and suggest President Obama received a bigger boost from his convention than Romney did from his.
“I think Obama is slightly ahead," said veteran political observer Tom DeFrank, who writes about U.S. politics for the New York Daily News. "He has to hope that in the coming months the economy gets a little better, or at least does not get worse, and we will have to see how people process that. But I think it is really very, very close at the moment,” Obama said.
Although the economy remains the central issue in this year’s election campaign, foreign policy has dominated the debate in recent days after angry mobs attacked the U.S. consulate in Libya and the U.S. embassy in Cairo. Four Americans died in the consulate assault in Libya, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Republican Mitt Romney said the Obama administration’s handling of the attack in Egypt showed weakness, referring to an early embassy statement condemning an Internet video that sparked the protests.
President Obama told the CBS program “60 Minutes” that Romney’s criticism showed what he called a “tendency to shoot first and aim later.”
The Romney comments drew criticism even from some Republicans, who questioned the wisdom of trying to critique the handling of a foreign policy issue as it was unfolding.
Political analyst Rhodes Cook says many Republicans are urging Romney to refocus on the economy, which they believe is his strongest argument to defeat the president in November.
“I think there is a sense of trying to get the race back to where it was before the conventions. The economy is his big issue, so to go after Obama on this or to break ground on how you handle a foreign policy crisis is risky,” Cook said.
Romney refocused his campaign on the president’s handling of the economy during a campaign stop Thursday in Virginia.
Both campaigns are also preparing for the upcoming series of debates. There will be three debates between the president and Mr. Romney as well as one vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and the Republican candidate, Congressman Paul Ryan. The first debate will take place October 3.
Analyst Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says he expects the Romney campaign to try to put the focus back on the economy and jobs in the final weeks of the campaign.
“As best we can tell it really is trying to return the campaign debate to a referendum on President Obama and the performance of the economy,” Mann said.
In addition to a lead in national polls, President Obama also leads Romney in a number of closely contested so-called battleground states that will likely determine the outcome of the election November 6.
Speaking on VOA's Encounter program, Judd Legum of the Center for American Progress says President Obama has an advantage in the state-by-state competition for electoral college votes because he can afford to lose a few states he won four years ago and still win re-election.
“I do think that there are some structural advantages for Obama, at least as things sit now, simply because he had a fairly resounding victory last time, so he can lose quite a few states that he won last time and still end up retaining the presidency,” Legum said.
Both candidates are expected to concentrate on a handful of battleground states in the final weeks of the campaign, states that include Ohio, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, Virginia and Wisconsin.