Obama opens lead, but both camps see tight race

New figures show President Obama's campaign raised $114 million in August, $3 million more than GOP nominee Mitt Romney's campaign. It's the first time in four months the president has raised more money than his challenger. CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante has the latest from the campaign trail.

This article originally appeared on RealClearPolitics.

(CBS News) As the post-convention smoke began to clear over the weekend, a handful of polls released Monday showed that President Obama has taken a small lead over Mitt Romney.

Gallup and Rasmussen daily tracking polls each showed the incumbent with a five-point advantage over his Republican challenger, and a CNN/Opinion research survey had Obama ahead by a similar margin of 6 percent. (An automated Investor's Business Daily/Christian Science Monitor survey had Obama leading Romney by a smaller margin of 2 percent and a new Washington Post/ABC poll gives Mr. Obama a 1-point lead among likely voters, which is virtually unchanged since before the election.)

With the media narrative gelling around the notion that the Democratic National Convention provided a significant boost to Obama's re-election hopes, the Romney campaign on Monday pushed back forcefully. Political Director Rich Beeson said the echo chamber was the same one that perpetuated a series of off-the-mark assumptions during the GOP primaries. Beeson pointed to three states that the president won easily in 2008 but where polls continue to show a tossup, suggesting that the Obama campaign's rosy assessment of the electoral map did not jibe with reality.

"They do this smoke screen all the time of talking about states that are out of reach," he said. "The fact of the matter is that they're nervous as a long-tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs over Iowa, Wisconsin, New Hampshire. And they know if they're losing states like that, they're going to be losing in a lot of other places, so that's why they've built this Maginot Line around Iowa, because if the magic is gone in Iowa, it's gone all over the place."

Romney pollster Neil Newhouse released a memorandum warning reporters not to get "too worked up about the latest polling" and arguing that the "basic structure of the race has not changed significantly."

Newhouse cited the underlying weak economy, Romney's financial advantage, and several other key factors to suggest that reporters and commentators were guilty of wrong-headed groupthink that has solidified inside the Washington bubble.

"The stakes are very high in this election, and voters understand the future of our country is on the line," Newhouse wrote. "This may be lost on those living within the hyper-political world in and around the Beltway, but it is not lost in communities in battleground states."

Obama campaign officials were heartened by the response to their convention in Charlotte last week and were particularly buoyed by the well-received speeches that Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton delivered on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

But while the president's re-election campaign says it has a "small but important lead" in key states, they agree that their current advantage could be fleeting.

"It's more in the media than among our supporter base," a senior Obama adviser said of the perception that the president has opened up a sizable lead. "I think our supporters have seen how difficult the past few years have been, and they're not going to take a week of particularly good coverage and sit this thing out. Everybody understands this is going to be close."

Obama's post-convention bump of about four points in most polls is only a mediocre lift compared to recent presidential cycles, and it mirrors the boost he received after his 2008 convention in Denver.

But in a tight general election race that for months has largely been static, movement in the polls this late in the game is indeed noteworthy.

And for the first time since April, the president's campaign and the Democratic National Committee narrowly outraised their Republican counterparts last month, a surprising fundraising victory that might keep the Romney camp's overall financial advantage in check.

Still, Romney aides noted that the Obama camp did not release its updated cash-on-hand total, suggesting that the Democrats' burn rate remained far higher than theirs.

The Republican standard-bearer and his super PAC allies are expected to outspend their Democratic opponents by a significant margin during the election's final eight weeks.

That post-convention dash began over the weekend when Romney unveiled a revised version of his stump speech, which focused less exclusively on the economy and included several notable lines about God as well as a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

"For me, the Pledge of Allegiance and placing our hand over our heart reminds us of the blood that was shed by our sons and daughters fighting for our liberty and sharing liberty with people around the world," Romney said Saturday in Virginia Beach, Va. "The pledge says 'under God.' I will not take God out of the name of our platform. I will not take God off our coins, and I will not take God out of my heart. We're a nation that's bestowed by God."

The Republican's invoking of the Creator in "our platform" was a reference to the Democratic convention's removal of the word God from its party platform -- a move that the president successfully fought to reverse.

Romney's remark drew derision from the Obama campaign, which noted that the president has never suggested that "In God We Trust" be removed from U.S. currency. The issue became a major headline in weekend news reports, adding to the perception that the Republican was changing his strategy of focusing almost exclusively on the economy.

One senior Romney adviser said that the candidate himself had decided to insert the new remarks into the stump speech and did not know whether the passage would remain a part of it.

"He's the one who decides what he's going to say, so I don't know," the adviser said.

With the conventions behind them, the candidates' next opportunity to alter significantly the race's trajectory may not come until they square off in the first of three presidential debates at the University of Denver on Oct. 3.

While the president and his allies were rallying Democrats in Charlotte last week, Romney was holed up in Vermont, where he studied up with senior aides and Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who has been playing the role of the president in mock debates.

In a clear sign of the extent to which the Romney camp sees the debates as an opportunity to regain momentum, the Republican spent four days over the past week engaged in these formalized debate practice sessions.

An Obama adviser said that the president will do "some" debate preparation over the next few weeks and sought to raise expectations for Romney's performance by noting that the former Massachusetts governor has had, by virtue of the Republican primary campaign, far more recent practice than the president has.

"We've just got to build it into the schedule," the Obama adviser said of the president's preparation. "The fact is Romney's ready for these since he did 30 of them in the last year, and he's obviously dedicating a lot of time to it. They're obviously hinging a lot of their hopes on a good performance."

More from RealClearPolitics:

A Tale of Two Conventions

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.

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