Why is Mitt Romney losing his edge on the economy?
In three new CBS News/New York Times surveys of battleground states, where ad spending is likely to be much heavier and voters more closely targeted than in solidly blue or red states, similar patterns appear to be emerging. In Colorado, Virginia, and Wisconsin, Mr. Obama has seen some degree of improvement on the question of who would do a better job on the economy, but Romney has not seen similar gains. In Colorado, he has essentially closed a 10-point gap in the space of a month: In August, Romney led him on the issue 51 percent to 41 percent; in September, he trailed Romney by just one point, with 47 percent to Romney's 48 percent. In Wisconsin, the president jumped from 43 percent in August to 49 percent in September, while Romney dropped from 49 percent in August to 46 percent in September. In Virginia, Romney held steady with 47 percent in both August and September. Mr. Obama, however, had an uptick of 4 points, from 45 percent to 49 percent.
Likewise, a Wednesday poll out of Virginia shows Mr. Obama leading Romney 47 percent to 45 percent among registered voters on a question about which candidate would do a better job on the economy. And in new Fox News polls surveying three battleground states -- Florida, Ohio, and Virginia -- more likely voters say they trust the president than Romney to improve the economy. Whether or not these figures mark an improvement for Mr. Obama is unclear, however, since none of the polls provides previous data on the question.
"Our battleground state polls show that there has been a shift in President Obama's favor on handling the economy in all three states, most notably in Colorado," said Sarah Dutton, CBS News' Director of Surveys.
Still, Dutton emphasized that it remains to be seen whether or not the recent polling numbers hold steady. "It's still too early to say whether this represents a long term trend for the president, or whether it's a temporary blip upward," she said. "We'll have to see what polls show in the next few weeks."
A short-term bounce?
While it's possible that voters are generally more optimistic about the state of the economy - which was true in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll - it's also conceivable that the president is benefiting from a temporary across-the-board bounce following the Democratic convention.
The Romney campaign argues that any uptick in the president's economic polling numbers is a result of a post-Charlotte boost among the base -- and that Mr. Obama has done nothing to change the way voters look at the economy overall.
"This is just Democrats coming back to Obama -- running up the score in places like Cali, NY/NJ, IL," a Romney campaign official told CBSNews.com in an email. "Besides that having no effect on the election (not swing states), there's been absolutely nothing that President Obama has done on the economy to change the dynamic. If anything, the continuous bad news -- food stamps record, unemployment numbers, debt -- that has trickled out since their convention will begin to blunt their enthusiasm."
"There was a small bounce, clearly," said Ayres, who said that naturally, an across-the-board bounce would lead to a "narrowing of the Romney advantage" on the economy. But he argues that there is still a significant opening for Romney on the issue.
"Mitt Romney's challenge is to consolidate the people who disapprove of Obama's handling of the economy. That's the strategy in a nutshell. Those people are prepared to try something else," he said. "He needs to paint a compelling alternative vision for how government would act differently in a way that would encourage rather than discourage job creation in the private sector" under a Romney presidency.
In the last several weeks, however, as Romney has been drawn into controversial debates over domestic and foreign policy issues, the candidate has had fewer opportunities to make his economic case on a large scale.
"There have been a lot of distractions," said Doug Holtz-Eakin, chief economic policy adviser to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. "Conventions come and go, and international affairs have dominated recently."
But, he says, the economy is at "the core" of Romney's campaign. "He needs to get back to that."
"Any time you're running a national campaign, you're not fully in control of all the elements of the story that's developing around you," said Terry Holt, a Republican strategist who served on George W. Bush's campaign in 2000 and 2004. "The campaign has to stay focused. It has to very clearly and distinctly talk about Obama's record and make this an election where there is a clear choice between two distinct paths."
"If we're not talking about that we're not making any progress," he said.
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