Polls highlight challenge facing Romney
Heading into his first debate with Democratic president Barack Obama on tonight, Republican Mitt Romney has some convincing to do.
During the next five weeks - and three debates – Mr Romney will make an appeal to voters aimed at overcoming an Obama campaign that has outflanked his own for much of the past four months. Romney enters the final sprint to the November 6th election behind in national polls and trailing in most of the nine or so politically divided "swing" states that are likely to decide the election.
Just as important, Mr Romney trails Mr Obama among likely voters on a broad array of issues and personal ratings that reflect the scope of the challenge Mr Romney faces in trying to come from behind and snatch the presidency from the Democratic incumbent.
A series of Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls indicate that Mr Obama has small leads over Mr Romney on separate questions about which candidate would best handle the economy and who could create more jobs, even though Mr Romney has made his business experience as the head of a private equity firm the centrepiece of his campaign.
Mr Obama has double-digit leads on who would do better on taxes, 45 per cent to 35 per cent, and on dealing with the social security retirement program, 43 per cent to 31 per cent.
Likely voters are particularly supportive of Mr Obama on more personal issues. Mr Romney, who has been portrayed by Obama's campaign as an out-of-touch millionaire, trails Mr Obama by about 30 points among likely voters who were asked which candidate was more likable. He trails by 20 points on the question of which candidate best understood voters.
Such questions touching on Mr Romney's likability and empathy might pale in importance to questions about the economy and other domestic policies but taken together they present significant hurdles for Mr Romney, whose difficulty in connecting with voters has been a constant problem of his campaign.
"Those personal attributes are soft metrics," Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said. "But they contribute to how much a voter trusts and feels comfortable with a candidate."
Tonight's debate is expected to be seen by about 60 million television viewers and will give voters a chance to compare the candidates side-by-side for the first time.
The Denver debate will focus on domestic policy and will be followed by a town hall-type session on October 16th in Hempstead, New York, and a session on foreign policy in Boca Raton, Florida, on October 22nd.
The events will offer the candidates a way to cut through the considerable political noise surrounding a campaign in which more than $2 billion is being spent, much of it to attack the opposition.
For Mr Romney, the debates represent his best chance to reverse voters' views of how he stacks up against Mr Obama by pressing his argument that Obama is a failure in managing the economy.
The debates also will give Mr Romney a chance to bolster his personal image, which has taken a beating in polls as Obama's team has cast him as an out-of-touch rich guy who, while leading Bain Capital, sent thousands of US jobs overseas.
Mr Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has been taking time off the campaign trail for weeks to prepare for the debates, which a campaign adviser acknowledged on Monday represent an "important opportunity."
"I think that focusing on the issues that people care about can make you more likable," Romney senior adviser Kevin Madden said.
"And people will come away from the debates saying, 'You know what, Governor Romney, he understands some of the problems I'm facing every single day and he's got solutions to help overcome the country's challenges. And as a result I feel better about my vote for him.’”
Mr Obama's rise in recent nationwide and state polls has been aided by what several polls have identified as increasing optimism about the direction of the country, even as the economy continues to struggle.
Reuters/Ipsos data shows Obama ahead of Romney 42 per cent to 38 per cent on the question of who would better lead the economy and 44 per cent to 39 per cent on who has the better plan to create jobs.
Mr Obama's campaign spent much of the summer and millions of dollars on ads that portrayed Mr Romney as unable to relate to the concerns of middle-class Americans and criticised his leadership at Bain Capital, which critics say plundered some of the companies it took over and cut jobs in the name of profits.
The Reuters/Ipsos polling of more than 1,600 likely voters indicates the tactics seemed to work.
On the question of which candidate has the right values, Obama leads 47 per cent to 37 per cent. On which candidate is tough enough for the job, Obama leads by 45 per cent to 38 per cent, and on the question of which candidate better represents America, Obama leads 48 per cent to 38 per cent.
"The White House has done the most effective job I've seen in negatively defining an opponent," said Peter Brown of the nonpartisan Quinnipiac University poll. "They have made Romney, in the eyes of many voters, a rich, unfeeling elitist who does not understand how Americans live their lives."