* Polls show a dead heat for Romney, Obama
* Obama supporters fret as candidate raises money
* Romney shows softer side on campaign trail
By Andy Sullivan
WASHINGTON, Oct 9 The U.S. presidential race had
seemed on the verge of slipping from Republican Mitt Romney's
grasp a week ago, but now he has erased President Barack
Obama's once-substantial lead in polls and made the race for the
White House highly competitive once more.
In a clear shift four weeks before Election Day on Nov. 6, a
new round of opinion polls showed essentially a dead heat after
a strong debate performance by Romney last week.
A Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Tuesday found Obama
and Romney tied among likely voters at 45 percent each, ending a
month during which Obama led the survey.
Other polls also reflected the Romney surge. He led by 2
percentage points in Gallup's daily tracking poll and 4 points
in a Pew Research Center poll.
Strategists say Obama still holds an advantage in the
handful of contested states that will decide the election, but
there were signs that Romney may be able to expand the
battlefield to states that had been considered beyond his reach.
Pennsylvania and Michigan - regarded until this week as sure
bets for Obama - suddenly do not look so safe for him
as several polls showed his lead in both states shrinking to 3
A victory in either of those states would multiply Romney's
possible pathways to victory and reduce his need to carry
make-or-break states like Virginia or Florida.
Both campaigns downplayed the significance of the polls and
said they have always believed the race would be close. In one
of the most important swing states, Obama urged supporters to
register to vote and to get to the polls.
"I need you fired up, I need you ready to go vote. Because
we've got some work to do. We've got an election to win," he
told some 15,000 people at a rally at Ohio State University.
A CNN poll showed Obama's lead tightening in Ohio to 4
points. No Republican has won the presidency without also taking
the Midwestern state.
The plethora of poll results more accurately reflect the
dynamic of a closely divided electorate and a lackluster
economy, said Ipsos pollster Cliff Young. Obama's earlier wide
lead likely would have narrowed regardless of last week's
"Things are probably back to where they should be. This is a
race where Romney should be up sometimes," Young said.
BIG BIRD BITES BACK
In an embarrassment for Democrats, the creators of Big Bird
asked the Obama campaign to scrap an anti-Romney ad featuring
the popular TV children's character.
Obama's team had used Big Bird to attack Romney for vowing
during the debate to cut funding for public television, but is
now considering the request to pull the ad.
Romney said the flap showed Obama was not taking his duties
seriously. "These are tough times with real serious issues, so
you have to scratch your head when the president spends the last
week talking about saving Big Bird," he said in Iowa.
With early voting already taking place in some form in 40
states, Obama is trying to mobilize the coalition of minorities,
women and younger voters that powered him to victory in 2008.
However, his supporters have grown increasingly distraught
in recent days as Obama has largely stayed out of the public eye
after his lackluster debate performance.
"I've never seen a candidate self-destruct for no external
reason this late in a campaign before," pundit Andrew Sullivan
wrote in The Daily Beast.
Romney's speech on foreign policy on Monday is likely to be
followed by other policy addresses that lay out his views
broadly for those who are only now paying attention to the
election, aides said.
The former Massachusetts governor is showing a softer, more
personal side on the campaign trail which seems to be working
At a rally in Van Meter, Iowa, he told a story of meeting a
young man at a Christmas party who turned out to be one of the
former Navy SEALs who died in an attack on the U.S. consulate in
Benghazi, Libya last month.
"It touched me, obviously, as I recognized that this young
man that I felt was so impressive had lost his life in the
service of his fellow men and women," Romney said.
"This is the American way. We go where there's trouble. We
go where we're needed. And right now we're needed. Right now the
American people need us," he said.