There hasn't been a sweeping obvious change in the presidential race after Mitt Romney's victory in the first presidential debate against President Obama -- all liberal panicking aside. But several new polls released Thursday show the race is now quite close nationally and in many swing states (except Ohio), which is exactly where the race was back before the conventions.
In debate focus groups, Romney's campaign found that voters "consistently reserved their highest marks for moments when Mr. Romney sounded bipartisan and moderate," The New York Times's Michael Barbaro and Ashley Parker report. The campaign found voters were surprised that Romney didn't sound like a plebe-hating plutocrat. The Obama campaign's internal polls show something similar, National Journal's Major Garrett reports. "Voters haven't switched from us to him," an Obama strategist told Garrett. "But they are giving him a second look. They are thinking about him again. The question is, can he [Romney] close the deal." By the numbers, here's what that second look looks like:
- In Florida, Obama has a 1-point lead, the same as last week, an NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday shows.
- In Ohio, Obama's 8-point lead last week has shrunk to 6 points, NBC/WSJ shows.
- In Virginia, Romney has a 1-point lead, after Obama had a 2-point lead last week, NBC/WSJ shows. But a New York Times/CBS News poll released Thursday shows a different result. That survey finds the race is almost exactly where it was a month ago -- Obama ahead 51 percent to Romney's 46 percent, compared to 50 percent to 46 percent September 19.
In Wisconsin, Obama's 6-point lead a month ago has shrunk to 3 points, the NYT/CBS poll finds.
- The Obama campaign's internal polls show Colorado, Florida, and Virginia within the margin of error, but in Ohio, Obama's lead has shrunk from 8 or 10 points to "just outside the margin of error," National Journal reports.
Why the small -- but significant, given how close the race is -- change for Romney? The debate didn't change many people's minds, as The Wall Street Journal's Janet Hook explains. The number who said they made up their minds after the debate is in the single digits. But again, people like him more. The number of pro-Obama ads were triple the number of pro-Romney ones from late spring through mid-September, and that was damaging to Romney's image. The debate helped ease that. A Pew Research Center poll found that voters saw him much more favorably after the debate. The NYT/CBS poll shows Romney more voters see him favorably than unfavorably in Colorado and Wisconsin, while those numbers are even in Virginia. The NBC/WSJ poll showed small gains for Romney in favorability, too.
In Ohio, where Romney still has the biggest gap to make up, was where many of the most brutal Bain attack ads aired. Romney's debate performance helped him with independent voters in the state, but the performance might have come too late. Almost a fifth of those polled by NBC/WSJ in Ohio had already voted, and those people went for Obama by 63 percent to 47 percent. And that points to another possible odd outcome of the race: based on poll averages, Romney is winning the popular vote, but losing the electoral college vote, in part thanks to Ohio. Maybe in the next debate his sole talking point should be how Ohio is awesome.