Political Mann: Mitt Romney enjoys momentum as race tightens

Story highlights

  • In CNN Poll of Polls, Romney leads Obama by one percent among likely voters
  • Until debates, Romney encountered lack of enthusiasm since his campaign started
  • Obama appeared remote and passionless in first debate, while Romney seemed energetic

After years of trying to win over the Republican party and American people, Mitt Romney spent this week savoring the sudden pleasure of being ahead in public opinion polls, even if only slightly, on the strength of a decisive debate against President Barak Obama.

"I just think the American people recognize that the president's policies are not something we can afford for four more years," Romney said. "We just can't afford more of what we've gone through."

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Romney has encountered a lack of enthusiasm within the Republican Party -- and the country as a whole -- since he began campaigning for the presidency nearly six years ago in his first run for the White House. Even now, in the last weeks of his second campaign, he isn't enjoying an enormous surge.

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The CNN Poll of Polls, our calculation based on three independent national surveys, finds that Romney has the support of 48 percent of likely voters, with Obama at 47 percent.

It's just a one-percent advantage but it may reflect a more revealing change in momentum. Romney wasn't just trailing Obama in recent polls; his numbers had been eroding. For now at least he's stopped sliding backwards and has apparently jumped a tiny bit ahead.

The launching pad was last week's presidential debate; 90 minutes on national television that offered voters a surprising snapshot of the two candidates. Obama appeared remote and passionless, while Romney seemed to have more energy and empathy than many Americans expected.

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If some Democrats had dreamed of a few easy weeks leading up to the November 6th vote, the debate and the new poll numbers were an opportunity for party leaders to address that enthusiasm.

"We have said from the beginning that this is going to be a tight race, it will be a tight race all the way up until election day," said Stephanie Cutler, deputy manager of the Obama campaign.

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The new national polls will only focus attention on the numbers that matter more: the handful of "swing" states where the campaigns are competing for the voters who will really decide the outcome.

American presidential election results are tallied state by state. Most states vote predictably from one campaign to the next, just as most voters do. So the next three weeks will see a non-stop effort to reach out to undecided, persuadable voters in undecided, winnable states.

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In places like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, Obama's lead has been diminished -- and in Colorado it may be gone entirely.

Romney has some good numbers after a long wait. There won't be much waiting left.

      Election 2012

    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage with first lady Michelle Obama, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden after his victory speech on election night at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

      A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
    • CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 06:  U.S. President Barack Obama stands on stage after his victory speech at McCormick Place November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Obama won reelection against Republican candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

      The 2012 presidential election shattered spending records, further polarized a divided country and launched a thousand hashtags.
    • Even though voters indicated to pollsters that their financial situation is the same or worse than it was four years ago, they put their trust in the president.
    • US President Barack Obama addresses a crowd of supporters on stage on election night November 6, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. President Barack Obama swept to re-election Tuesday, forging history again by transcending a slow economic recovery and the high unemployment which haunted his first term to beat Republican Mitt Romney. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad        (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

      The president faces a long and familiar set of challenges after riding a wave of support from moderates, women and minorities to victory.
    • Republicans kept a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives, a crucial victory after the party failed to wrest away the presidency from Barack Obama and the Senate from the Democrats.