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Obama holds only a small lead over Romney

(AP) / 3 July 2012

Polls suggest President Barack Obama holds only a small, perhaps meaningless lead over Republican Mitt Romney in the race for the White House as he awaits a new jobs report Friday.

With unemployment remaining high, Romney and Obama are running neck and neck with no sign that either can break away, as the race enters a final summer lull before the sprint to Election Day in November.

Both candidates are taking a break this week, which includes the Fourth of July holiday, with Romney at his lakeside compound in New Hampshire and Obama at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland.

“When it’s a 2 or 3-point race, that’s not good for an incumbent president,” said Republican strategist Rich Galen, who is not affiliated with Romney’s campaign. “Obama’s political career is totally dependent on Angela Merkel holding the eurozone together,” he said, referring to the German chancellor and Europe’s financial woes, which could further hurt the U.S. economy.

An eventful June began badly for Obama. Poor job creation numbers followed news that Romney’s campaign was raising more money than his. Things got worse when Obama told reporters, “The private sector is doing fine,” a line now featured in countless Republican attack ads. Obama was trying to contrast the private sector, which has seen steady but modest job growth, with the public sector, where budget cuts have led to layoffs of teachers, police officers and other government employees.

The month ended better for the Democratic president. The Supreme Court struck down much of Arizona’s strict anti-illegal immigration law, which his administration had opposed. Then the justices upheld Obama’s signature health care overhaul last week.

“Last week was a reminder to the American people of who the president is fighting for,” said Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

“But we’re looking ahead, and we know this race is going to be really close,” she said.

It’s not clear how the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the president’s health care reform law will play out in the campaign.

Congressional Republicans have jumped on the court’s conclusion that a fee to be imposed on people who refuse to obtain health insurance is actually a tax. Romney tiptoes around the issue because the fee/tax is similar to one he imposed as governor on Massachusetts residents who failed to buy medical insurance.

Obama on Thursday starts a two-day bus tour of Ohio and Pennsylvania, two crucial battleground states that could go either way in the state-by-state contests that decide the election.

Meanwhile, he needs money to compete with Romney. In a leaked recording of a conference call Obama recently placed from Air Force One to top donors from his 2008 campaign, he implored them to match their earlier generosity.

The two campaigns, including their allied political action committees, are matching each other nearly dollar for dollar on TV ads in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Virginia and New Hampshire. Romney’s forces are out-spending Obama’s in Iowa and Michigan. The opposite is true in Colorado.

An aide on Monday confirmed that Romney plans this summer to visit Israel, a trip that could appeal to Jewish voters and to conservatives who see Israel as a vital military and political ally.

Meanwhile, Republicans worry that Democrats are making headway with claims that Romney supported shipping jobs overseas when he headed a private equity firm called Bain Capital. His campaign says Romney did not oversee the export of U.S. jobs, although Bain at times invested in companies that helped pioneer outsourcing certain jobs to countries such as India and China.

Summer vacations and the Olympic Games might distract voters for the next several weeks, and political and legal activists might keep arguing over health care and immigration. But Romney is staking his candidacy on the claim that Obama has failed on the economy.

And it’s the economy that will remain the top issue through Election Day, said Dan Schnur, a former Republican adviser who teaches political science at the University of Southern California.

An election that seems destined to be tight will largely turn on voters’ gut feelings about job security, the government’s role in boosting or hindering employment, and candidates’ visions for the nation’s role in a global economy.


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