President Obama and Mitt Romney head into their third and final debate Monday night running about even in the latest Washington Post/ABC News national poll, with Obama at 49 percent and Romney at 48 percent among those likeliest to vote.
At first glance, the numbers suggest a contest resembling the one we saw right after Labor Day. But beneath the top-lines there is some good news for the Republican nominee. (There is also good news for Obama, which The Fix’s Aaron Blake will address shortly.) Here are the reasons the GOP nominee should be optimistic about the final two weeks, based on the poll’s findings:
1. Romney’s made up ground on foreign policy and national security
One of the two candidates was responsible for killing Osama bin Laden and enjoys popularity overseas, while the other one bungled a European trip and has a thin résumé when it comes to international issues. But based on the latest numbers, it would be difficult to tell one from the other.
When it comes to who voters trust to handle international affairs, Obama’s lead over Romney has shrunk from eights points (50-42) in early September to just three now (49-46). On who voters trust more to handle terrorism, Obama’s 11-point lead (52-41) late last month has been dwindled to a single point (47-46), yielding him no clear advantage. More encouraging news for Romney headed into Monday’s foreign policy-centric set-to: Nearly as many likely voters (45 percent) say Romney would be a better commander-in-chief as say so of the president (48 percent).
2. Romney’s made gains where it matters on the map
In The Washington Post’s tossup states of Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida Virginia and New Hampshire (plus Ohio, which leans toward Obama, but isn’t out of Romney’s reach), Romney’s at 52 percent while Obama's at 46 percent. Given the sample size, it’s not a significant edge for the Republican, but still represents a reversal from where the race has stood in those battlegrounds up until now. It's worth noting, too, that both Romney and Obama are attracting about 60 percent support in the states that lean toward them or are solidly in their corner.
3. Romney’s favorable numbers rival Obama’s
Despite the string of negative stories the Republican faced in September, including his "47 percent” comment at a May fundraiser that was covered widely, his image is comparable to the president's. Fifty percent of likely voters said they had a favorable opinion of Romney, compared to 52 percent who said the same of Obama. Romney’s unfavorable rating (47 percent) is also about on par with Obama’s (46 percent). The president, however, has a 37 percent to 29 percent edge over Romney when it comes to the percentage of voters holding a strongly favorable impression of him.