Debates boost Romney favorables

Polls find GOP challenger gets different sort of October surprise

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question and President Barack Obama listens during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question and President Barack Obama listens during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
  • **FILE** President Obama (left) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney walk past each other onstage Oct. 22, 2012, at the end of the final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. (Associated Press)**FILE** President Obama (left) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney walk past each other onstage Oct. 22, 2012, at the end of the final presidential debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. (Associated Press)
  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney gives a thumbs up towards the crowd after the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Pool, Win McNamee) Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney gives a thumbs up towards the crowd after the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Pool, Win McNamee)
  • Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, laughs as she pulls her husband away from the edge of the stage after the third presidential debate with President Barack Obama at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, laughs as she pulls her husband away from the edge of the stage after the third presidential debate with President Barack Obama at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney meet family members after  the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney meet family members after the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)
  • President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney greet moderator Bob Schieffer at the start of the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney greet moderator Bob Schieffer at the start of the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)
  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, right, and President Barack Obama shake hands with audience members following the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, right, and President Barack Obama shake hands with audience members following the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his wife Ann react towards the audience after the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall) Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his wife Ann react towards the audience after the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
  • Moderator Bob Schieffer, center, watches as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left and President Barack Obama  wave to members of the audience during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)Moderator Bob Schieffer, center, watches as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left and President Barack Obama wave to members of the audience during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
  • President Barack Obama and moderator Bob Schieffer, right, listen to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left, during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)President Barack Obama and moderator Bob Schieffer, right, listen to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left, during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • President Barack Obama speaks during the third presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/David Goldman)President Barack Obama speaks during the third presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the third presidential debate with President Barack Obama at Lynn University. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the third presidential debate with President Barack Obama at Lynn University. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
  • President Barack Obama listens as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during the third presidential debate at Lynn University. (AP Photo/Pool-Rick Wilking)President Barack Obama listens as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during the third presidential debate at Lynn University. (AP Photo/Pool-Rick Wilking)
  • President Barack Obama answers a question as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney listens during the third presidential debate. (AP Photo/Pool, Win McNamee)President Barack Obama answers a question as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney listens during the third presidential debate. (AP Photo/Pool, Win McNamee)
  • President Barack Obama answers a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)President Barack Obama answers a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University. (AP Photo/Pool-Win McNamee)Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama answer a question during the third presidential debate at Lynn University. (AP Photo/Pool-Win McNamee)
  • Moderator Bob Schieffer, center, watches as Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama take their seats before the start of the last debate. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Moderator Bob Schieffer, center, watches as Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama take their seats before the start of the last debate. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
  • Moderator Bob Schieffer, right, watches as President Barack Obama, center, shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the third presidential debate at Lynn University. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)Moderator Bob Schieffer, right, watches as President Barack Obama, center, shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the third presidential debate at Lynn University. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
  • Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, second from left, and his wife Ann, left, sits in a holding room with his family before he participates in the third presidential debate with President Barack Obama.  (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, second from left, and his wife Ann, left, sits in a holding room with his family before he participates in the third presidential debate with President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
  • The sun sets ahead of the presidential debate between Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)The sun sets ahead of the presidential debate between Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, at Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
  • Workers pose for a photo with a life-sized cutout of President Barack Obama at a presidential debate fair on the campus of Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla., where President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will hold their final debate. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)Workers pose for a photo with a life-sized cutout of President Barack Obama at a presidential debate fair on the campus of Lynn University, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Fla., where President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will hold their final debate. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
  • Doris Smith, of Boynton Beach, Fla., wears buttons on her shirt before the presidential debate. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)Doris Smith, of Boynton Beach, Fla., wears buttons on her shirt before the presidential debate. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
  • Cutouts of President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, sit behind an AARP display before the candidates' final debate. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)Cutouts of President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, sit behind an AARP display before the candidates' final debate. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
  • Lynn University student Matt Alleva uses patriotic tubes to float on the water during a pre-debate pool party on campus, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Florida. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will hold their final debate at Lynn University Monday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)Lynn University student Matt Alleva uses patriotic tubes to float on the water during a pre-debate pool party on campus, Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, in Boca Raton, Florida. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will hold their final debate at Lynn University Monday. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Mitt Romney crossed a major threshold early this week, briefly moving above 50 percent in his favorability rating, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls — giving the Republican a lead over President Obama for the first time on that measure.

Now, with the presidential debates behind him, Mr. Romney has punctured Mr. Obama’s effort to make him unacceptable in the minds of voters, and they enter the final two-week stretch of the campaign having once again turned the election into a referendum on the president.

“The debates — especially the first one — destroyed the Obama crew’s strategy of disqualification,” said Republican pollster Mike McKenna. “Six months of work and $400 million of ad buys went up in smoke in about 10 days. With less than 340 hours to go, they are having real trouble with their footing.”

The debates’ effect can be seen in the favorability ratings. At the end of September, ahead of the debates, Mr. Romney had a 44.5 percent favorable rating. But by Monday, when he and Mr. Obama faced off for the third and final time, the Republican’s rating had leapt to 50.5 percent.

Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm, said Mr. Romney’s favorability surge “really has been remarkable” and explains why Mr. Obama has not been able to put away the race at this point.

“It was inevitable that Republicans were going to warm up to him once he became their nominee, but ever since his big victory in the first debate his numbers with independents have improved a good deal as well,” he said. “We’re actually finding in our national tracking now that Romney’s favorability numbers are better than Obama‘s, which no one could have imagined six months ago.”

By Tuesday, Mr. Romney’s favorability average at Real Clear Politics had dropped below 50 percent again, though he still leads Mr. Obama when it comes to net favorability — the calculation of favorable rating minus unfavorable rating.

Mr. Obama’s favorability averaged 49.7 percent, or 4.5 points more than his unfavorable rating. Mr. Romney’s favorability was 49.3 percent, or 6.5 points more than his unfavorable rating.

Campaigning in Henderson, Nev., on Tuesday, Mr. Romney said the debates “supercharged” his supporters.

Less than 24 hours earlier, he had delivered a measured performance in a debate that focused on foreign policy.

While pundits complained that he didn’t leave much daylight between himself and Mr. Obama on the issues, depriving them of the chance to compare and contrast policies, Republicans said Mr. Romney accomplished something deeper — he made himself a palatable alternative to Mr. Obama.

At one point, he even swatted away an Obama attack by accusing the president of offering little else.

“Attacking me is not an agenda,” the Republican said.

He hewed closely to the president’s decision-making when it came to action in Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.

Indeed, at one point the president told Mr. Romney that the only difference in their positions was “you’d say them louder.”

But on domestic issues, where all sides agree the election will be decided, Mr. Obama said he has used the debates to give voters a framework to choose.

“You know, over the last four years, we’ve made real progress digging our way out of policies that gave us two prolonged wars, record deficits and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” he said at the end of Monday’s debate. “And Gov. Romney wants to take us back to those policies: a foreign policy that’s wrong and reckless; economic policies that won’t create jobs, won’t reduce our deficit, but will make sure that folks at the very top don’t have to play by the same rules that you do.”

Instant polls showed Mr. Obama won the debate on points, and commentators on both sides of the aisle skewered Mr. Romney for failing to give a sense of what he would do differently on world hot spots.

“In fact, Gov. Romney appeared to leave a lot of his positions behind, and it does leave you with the question: What is his worldview? What does he really believe?” said Nicholas Burns, a top State Department official in the George W. Bush administration, speaking to CNN on Tuesday. “I think he’s leaving the impression that he’s not quite sure what he’d do or that he’s not being as specific as he might be.”

The Obama campaign said Mr. Romney “proved yet again that he would say anything to close the deal, no matter what his real positions are.”

But Republicans said the debate was a win because Mr. Romney again appeared measured and presidential — the threshold he needs to cross in voters’ minds in order to be a credible alternative.

During October, he also connected with voters in a way he never had before.

A day ahead of the first debate, Comedy Central’s election page was able to write a headline poking fun of the candidate’s appeal: “Romney continues to keep his humanity a closely guarded secret.”

But by the time the first debate was finished, a huge national audience saw Mr. Romney sprinkle in stories of everyday voters he had met who were struggling through the sluggish economy. The Republican’s humanity became the storyline.

Mr. Romney then took that strategy on the road, adding into his standard stump speech a litany of personal interactions, including with a woman whose husband, an Army sniper, was killed in Afghanistan, and the Boy Scout troop that sent its American flag on the Space Shuttle Challenger on its fateful last flight in 1986.

John Zogby, a pollster for The Washington Times, said Mr. Romney’s favorability surge is a significant development in the race.

“Voters got to see an option. Now that there is an option, Romney is viewed as favorably as Obama as a person,” he said.

That’s not to say Mr. Romney has no problems when it comes to relating.

In The Washington Times/Zogby Poll released over the weekend, Mr. Romney trails Mr. Obama and even his own running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, when voters were asked who is the most likable person on the Democratic and Republican tickets.

Indeed, Mr. Obama nearly doubled Mr. Romney’s rating, 40 percent to 22 percent. Mr. Ryan was rated most likable by 23 percent, and 10 percent said that honor went to Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

The problem extends to the candidates’ wives, too. The Times/Zogby Poll found that voters preferred Michelle Obama to be first lady over Ann Romney, 36 percent to 26 percent. Another 17 percent said both were equally suited, while the rest weren’t sure either made a good first lady.

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