Republican strategists are increasingly confident that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has turned a corner and become stronger than ever as a candidate just as the final sprint to Election Day begins.
A big reason is his performance in the debates. Voters have seen for themselves that Romney is not the aloof, overzealous ideologue depicted by President Obama's campaign, GOP strategists say.
The final debate, on foreign policy, is scheduled for Monday in the swing state of Florida.
Romney and his team are relishing his surge in some polls. The latest Gallup survey gives him a 52 percent to 45 percent lead over Obama nationally, and he appears to be gaining in at least some battleground states that will be crucial in amassing electoral votes. He was tied, 48 percent to 48 percent, with Obama nationally at the beginning of October, according to Gallup. Obama advisers say the Gallup poll is wrong and that Obama is slightly ahead, but they admit that the race is close.
The GOP challenger criticized Obama Thursday for failing to set forth his plans for the future. "I think it's interesting that the president still doesn't have an agenda for a second term," Romney said in Virginia. "Don't you think it's time for him to finally put together a vision of what he'll do in the next four years if he were re-elected?"
Obama's lack of a second-term agenda is a theme that Romney plans to emphasize for the remainder of the campaign, Republican strategists say.
Romney appears to be finding his voice, and conveying a better impression of himself. "People needed to become more comfortable with the notion of Romney as president, and they are," says a GOP adviser who worked for President Ronald Reagan.
"For the last six months, Obama has run a campaign that has been extremely negative and that has tried to disqualify and diminish Romney. In spite of all that advertising and all that rhetoric, the person people saw on TV [in the debates] was not the character that Obama had attacked for the last six months."
Instead, Romney came across as even-tempered, steady, and reasonable, while Obama in the last debate seemed more than a bit angry and petulant, the GOP strategist said.
Obama's advisers, however, say the president still has a superior path to an Electoral College majority than Romney does. They note that many voters still consider Romney too extreme on social and economic issues, and too interested in protecting corporate interests and the rich rather than the middle class.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter.