Election up for grabs with 100 days to go

With 100 days until the 2012 election, President Obama has a tenuous lead, but the struggling economy hurts his bid for a second term.

Obama leads Mitt Romney by a narrow margin in most national polls, and has a slightly wider lead in most swing states, giving Romney little room for error. But while Obama continues to lead Romney in personal likability — a major asset — there are few signs that Obama’s sustained summer attack on Romney’s business background has changed the contours of the race.

The president, Romney and their allies have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising since the general election campaign officially began, though neither side has been able to move the needle much.

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Polls have been remarkably unchanged during that period. Obama leads Romney by slightly more than one percentage point nationally, according to Real Clear Politics’ average of the national polls. That is nearly identical to where the polls had the race three months ago.

In the swing states Obama has continued to hold a slight lead, and there is little hard evidence that the heavy spending by both sides has changed many voters’ minds.

The three swing states that have seen the most advertising by both sides are Florida, Ohio and Virginia — states Romney likely needs to sweep to win the presidency. At the beginning of May, Obama held a narrow lead in most polls in Virginia, a slightly wider one in Ohio, and the two were tied in Florida. Months later, the same is true in each state.

Obama’s reelection campaign suffers from a weak economy. Polls show Romney leads the president when voters are asked who they think would do a better job on that key issue.


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The president got more bad news on Friday, with the announcement that growth in the Gross Domestic Product slowed to 1.5 percent in the last three months.

Despite voters’ worries about the economy, they continue to give Obama the edge on personal popularity. In a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Obama led Romney by 20 points on the question of whether voters liked each of them on an individual level. Two thirds said they liked Obama, whether or not they disagreed with his policies, while just 47 percent said the same about Romney.

Just 35 percent of voters held a positive opinion of Romney overall, with 40 percent negative, while 49 percent had positive opinions of Obama and 43 percent felt negatively about him. Both candidates saw slight upticks in their negative numbers since the ad onslaught began.

While polling in many swing states has been limited, there has been no direct evidence that Obama’s attacks on Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital have significantly wounded Romney. Barely over one-third of voters nationally had an opinion of the company in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, and there have been few signs of momentum in the swing states for either candidate.

Though Obama and his allies outspent Romney and his allies on advertising in June, the former Massachusetts governor and outside GOP groups have kept pace in July. They have also spent more on election ads in the aggregate — and are likely to hold the upper hand in the final 100 days.

Romney and the Republican National Committee (RNC) had $112 million in the bank at the end of June after out-raising Obama and the Democratic National Committee (DNC) for the month. Although Obama and the DNC continued to lead with $135 million in the bank, the pro-Romney super-PACs and outside groups have much more money than those supporting Obama and will more than even the playing field in the fall.


BATTLE FOR THE SENATE

Republicans say they are on the verge of being able to wrest the four seats they need to regain control of the upper chamber (three if Romney wins), but Democrats still appear to be in line to barely hold on to the majority.

Things have improved for the GOP in Nevada, with Rep. Shelley Berkley’s (D-Nev.) ongoing ethics controversy hampering her chances of defeating Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) in that state’s tight race.

At the same time, increasingly nasty and expensive GOP primaries in Arizona, Michigan, Missouri and Wisconsin have the potential to hurt the party’s chances come November.

In Florida, Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) has spent weeks fighting with the local media rather than focusing on Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), who is favored to win reelection.


BATTLE FOR THE HOUSE

The GOP looks to have a very good chance to retain the House, despite Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) claim that the odds of Democrats grabbing back control are better than 50-50. The national redistricting process shored up more Republican than Democratic seats, and a number of retirements by Democrats in tough seats present challenges for Pelosi and her lieutenants.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has, however, posted impressive fundraising numbers this cycle. Most independent analysts believe Democrats will pick up seats though falling short of the 25 they need to grab the Speaker’s gavel from Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio).