With 50 days until the election, Obama holds edge over Romney

With 50 days until the 2012 election, President Obama has a small, but clear lead over Mitt Romney.

Obama is ahead of Romney by a narrow margin in most national polls, and has a slightly wider lead in most swing states, giving Romney almost no room for error. Obama continues to lead Romney in personal likability — a major asset — and a sustained barrage of summer advertising from his campaign combined with a successful Democratic National Convention has put him in the driver's seat heading into the election's homestretch.

The president has led Romney in polling throughout the summer except for a slight blip following the GOP convention, and the electoral college map sets up favorably for the president.

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Republicans are hopeful their big spending advantage will help Romney claw his way back into the lead, though Democrats have the edge in the ground game. While the economy continues to drive the election, this past week’s flare-up in Middle East violence has injected itself, at least temporarily, into the campaign. Republicans have pushed hard on the issue, though Romney’s initial response was criticized from both sides of the aisle. Regardless, if violence and instability continues to roil the region, it could cut into Obama’s advantage with voters on foreign policy.

Romney’s best chance at reframing the race will come with the three presidential debates — the first of which will take place on Oct. 3 in Denver — which he tacitly acknowledged by already spending three days devoted to debate preparation with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) earlier this month.

Advisers for Romney, including his wife, have already begun to downplay expectations for his performance: on Friday, Ann Romney described her husband as the “underdog," noting the president’s oratorical skills. Sources close to Obama note that the president hasn't engaged in a debate since 2008, while Romney participated in 20 during the GOP primaries.

Obama’s convention bump in the polls could prove ephemeral, as has occurred in many presidential campaigns in past years. But even before the conventions, he held a narrow lead in the national polls. More importantly: Romney needs to win more than two-thirds of the electoral votes up for grabs to become president, a tall order because he’s narrowly trailing in polls of most of those states.

The map, and recent polls, have led to hand-wringing from Republican lawmakers in recent days.

Obama has opened up a small but consistent lead in Ohio, a crucial battleground state. In Florida and Virginia, two other states Romney needs more than Obama for victory, the two rivals are running neck-and-neck.

“If I were Obama I’d be nervous about the economy, but if I were Romney I’d be nervous about demographics,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told The Hill last week. “The economic condition of the nation cries out for a change in leadership, but when you look at the map, demographics, they do matter. If this is an economic election, we’ll win, but if it’s a demographic election, we’re in trouble.”

Graham said he is “really worried” about Virginia, and that Romney needed to carry that state as well as either Ohio or Florida in order to become president.

“If we win one of those two [Florida or Ohio] the map gets a lot better for us,” Graham said. “If we lose both, we’re in trouble. If we lose both and Virginia, it’s almost impossible.”

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) expressed frustration that Romney isn’t doing better communicating with female and Hispanic voters, and that the struggling economy hasn’t hurt Obama politically as much as she thought it should. Florida and Virginia, as well as the swing states of Nevada and Colorado, have fast-growing Latino populations.

“You have to focus on areas in which they’re demonstrating weakness. That’s why I encourage them on issues concerning women and Hispanics,” she said last week. “There are things that we could focus on that would make sure that we could ensure drawing support from those key groups. It’s vitally important. And on the question of jobs, it’s hard to believe that the problem of unemployment is not resonating to the depths that it should, given where we stand today.”


Battle for the Senate

Democrats’ chances of keeping control of the Senate have gradually improved over the past year, with the latest fiasco in Missouri making it much more likely they’ll be able to narrowly retain control of the chamber.

Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-Mo.) “legitimate rape” remarks, the party’s response that they would no longer spend on his behalf and his steadfast refusal to drop out of the race has likely cost Republicans one of their best chances at a pickup this cycle.

While their prospects of winning Wisconsin improved greatly with former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s (R) primary win, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) seems to have a narrow edge in Nevada and Linda McMahon (R) is running a surprisingly strong campaign in Connecticut, which could put that seat in play, Democrats have been able to put up fights in Indiana and North Dakota, and the GOP recently pulled its advertising money out of New Mexico.

Republicans need to win a net of four seats for control of the chamber if Obama wins reelection, and it looks like they will fall just short of that mark. 


Battle for the House

Democrats continue to insist the House is in play, but while they are likely to pick up some seats and Romney’s pick of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as his running mate has nationalized the Medicare discussion, it is unlikely they will come anywhere close to winning the net of 25 seats they need for control of the chamber.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) insists that Ryan is a “down-ballot disaster” for House Republicans last week, saying he is “more optimistic” his party could win the House now. National polls of the generic House race show Democrats opening up a lead over the GOP in recent weeks.

But Republicans were able to shore up a number of their members in redistricting, and a few recruitment failures have hurt Democrats this cycle. They’ll likely pick up seats still, but the expected range is closer to 10 than 25.