Presidential Race Heads Into Final Stretch

Rival campaigns both keying in on economy and swing state voters.

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Both presidential candidates emerged from the two-week convention stretch stronger than they went in, but neither turned in a performance likely to ultimately change the state of the deadlocked race.

As much as the Republican presidential primary was marked for its wild merry-go-round of poll leaders, the main event is noted for its remarkable steadiness. Driven by his strong personal approval, President Barack Obama has so far been able to outperform the poor economy, which boasts jobless numbers that have proven to be death knells in past elections.

And Romney, who is the least popular Republican presidential candidate in decades, has been buoyed by near historic support from white voters for a Republican, but faces dramatic gaps with key minority voters, such as Hispanics.

[Read: Romney launches swing-state ad push.]

The remaining 60 days will be dictated by how well the much-vaunted Democratic ground game and get-out-the-vote effort counters the expected flood of Republican commercial onslaught, fueled by their vast cash advantage.

Gallup declared last week that Romney had experienced no discernible bounce coming out of his party's convention, but preliminary polling released Friday showed Obama may have a slight bump in popularity. His job approval rating pushed to its highest level since right after the death of Osama bin Laden, with 52 percent of people viewing his work positively. The rolling daily poll also showed Obama extending his lead in the presidential horse race over, leading Romney 48 percent to 45 percent, an increase from his previous one point lead. But Gallup warns the results may not reflect a sustained pro-Obama bounce.

So while neither side succeeded in changing the playing field coming out of their party conventions, the events served a crucial purpose heading into the electoral home-stretch, distilling clear campaign messages to the downtrodden, depressed American electorate.

For all the disagreement between the rival camps, from economic philosophy, to the relevance of tax returns, to actual facts, there are united in what they are selling to voters this fall – the American Dream. It's an attractive tactic that appeals to even the most abject voter.

Obama's surrogate team, headlined by former President Bill Clinton and featuring star turns by his wife, Michelle, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, beat their Republican counterparts when it came to firing up the convention faithful. And though the top-rated speech of the Charlotte events was delivered by Clinton, it was Michelle Obama and Castro who deftly connected with the middle class through stories of their struggles to climb the economic ladder and linking it to their Democratic philosophy.

[Check out U.S. News Weekly: an insider's guide to politics and policy.]

It's about government providing tools like a quality education and decent healthcare, so those who work hard and play by the rules have the same chance to thrive no matter what their roots are, the Democratic speakers said.

On the GOP side, it was Marco Rubio, the youthful Florida senator buoyed by the Tea Party, who connected the dots. By far the best messenger for the conservative economic philosophy, Rubio electrified the crowd with his re-telling of his family's story from Cuban exiles to representation in the U.S. Senate. In Rubio's words, Americans of all stripes succeed when government stands back and allows simply hard work and the entrepreneurial spirit to thrive, rather than trying to artificially level the playing field or, worse, by attempting to pick out winners and losers.

But with the exception of Rubio, the other GOP surrogates either focused too much on their own careers, such as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, or simply failed to whip the core audience into a frenzy that matched the Democrats, such as former presidential candidate Rick Santorum and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez.

[Read: Answer to 'better off' question may lie in voters' memories.]