According to the latest Zogby poll, conducted with the Washington Times, Mitt Romney leads Barack Obama 45.1% to 44.5%. It was the first Zogby survey taken since Wednesday's first presidential debate between the two candidates, where Romney clearly outperformed the president. The same poll showed that by a 64% to 14% margin, independents overwhelmingly believed that Romney had performed better, while only 8% said Obama was victorious. The poll was taken Friday through Sunday among likely voters. Interestingly, when third party candidates such as Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson are provided as options, Romney actually trails the president 45.5% to 45%.
Rasmussen's daily presidential tracking poll shows Obama and Romney tied at 48%, while 1% prefer a third party candidate, and 3% are undecided. Forty-five percent of voters say they are "certain" they will vote for Romney, while 41% say the same of Obama. Romney also appears to making making headway in the 11 swing states, where in the aggregate he leads the president 49% to 47%. It is the first time Romney has led in Rasmussen's daily swing state survey since September 19.
"Don't ever ask again if debates matter," remarked pollster John Zogby, referring to Romney's surprising virtuoso performance against Obama in Denver last week. During the debate, Obama was lackluster as he played defense for most of the debate. His responses were more akin to mini-lectures than a fervent case for another four-year term. The Zogby poll affirms the findings of the most recent Pew survey, which also shows Romney ahead.
Obama will likely rebound in his next two debates. Given that his performance was so mediocre, it's hard not to think he has nowhere to go from here but up. All other things being equal, Obama should not lose any more ground to Romney as a result of debates. Wednesday's performance notwithstanding, Obama is a skilled speaker and debater, and no doubt he will not allow himself to repeat that performance in the second debate at Hofstra University on October 16, or in the third and final one at Lynn University in Florida on October 22.
The hidden pitfall for the Romney campaign could be the existence of third party nominees Gary Johnson (Libertarian) and Virgil Goode (Constitution). In Virginia, the state Republican Party unsuccessfully challenged Goode's inclusion on the ballot. A former Republican congressman from Virginia, Goode's name on the ticket can only hurt Romney. The same goes for Gary Johnson, who may siphon enough votes away from Romney in key swing states to be the difference-maker in this presidential election, a la Ralph Nader in 2000.