Slide halted, Romney challenging Obama in swing states

* Romney claws his way back after first debate

* Only 2 points behind in Reuters/Ipsos poll

By Steve Holland

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla., Oct 7 (Reuters) - Mitt Romney appearedon Sunday to have halted his perilous slide in the polls and isback to running a close race with President Barack Obama as heprepares a new assault on the Democrat over foreign policy.

A solid performance against Obama at Wednesday's firstpresidential debate in Denver has helped the Republicanchallenger regain ground in several swing states after threeweeks of campaign stumbles that had appeared to jeopardize hischances of winning the Nov. 6 election.

Romney is now sounding more confident and has put thenormally sure-footed Obama campaign on the defensive with a vicepresidential debate coming up on Friday between the gaffe-proneDemocrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan.

Romney is to deliver a foreign policy address in Virginia onMonday to try to put more pressure on Obama after the deaths offour Americans in Libya last month, including ambassadorChristopher Stevens.

At a rally in Port St. Lucie, Florida, Romney took a jab atObama about his timid debate performance.

"You all had the chance to hear his answers or hisnon-answers. Now of course days later we are hearing his excusesand next January we're going to see him leave the White Housefor the last time," Romney said.

A rash of polls, both nationally and in specific states,showed evidence of Romney's improvement headed into the finalmonth of campaigning.

Romney solidified his post-debate "bounce" in the latestReuters/Ipsos daily poll, coming in 2 points behind Obama forthe third day in a row. The former Massachusetts governor hasclawed back from a 6-point deficit last week as Sunday's pollshowed Obama at 47 percent and Romney 45 percent.

"Romney's performance in the debate I think has improved hisshare of the vote for now ... It's a significant change fromwhere we were a couple of weeks ago," said Ipsos pollster JuliaClark.


An average of polls by RealClearPolitics.com in severalswing states also showed a tightening in the race in some of theplaces where the election will be decided. Romney was about evenwith Obama in Florida and Virginia and 3 points behind him inOhio.

A poll by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic organization,had Obama up by only 2 points in traditionally DemocraticWisconsin. Previous polls had shown a comfortable lead for thepresident.

Not taken into account yet was the possible impact of theimprovement in the U.S. jobless rate announced on Friday. Itfell to 7.8 percent in September, the lowest in almost fouryears, and gave Obama a talking point to defend his stewardshipof the economy.

Obama flew to California on a fund-raising swing on Sundayto try to keep up a recent strong campaign finance performance.He raised $181 million together with the Democrats in September,a record for either man's campaign this year.

Ally Robert Gibbs acknowledged that Obama's debate showingwas less than electrifying.

"I think the president understood that he hadn't performedup to his own expectations pretty quickly ... after he got offthe stage that night," Gibbs told ABC's "This Week."

Campaign officials said Obama would try to challenge Romneymore on what they felt were distortions by the Republicanchallenger. They have been complaining in particular aboutRomney's vow to cut income taxes across the board for allAmericans by 20 percent.

The Obama campaign says it would cost $5 trillion from thefederal budget to pay for the tax cuts. The Romney campaign saysit would be "revenue neutral" because the resulting growth inthe U.S. economy would generate more tax revenue and becauseRomney would end many tax deductions for wealthier Americans.

"He cannot name one loophole that he would close. If youtook away all the loopholes for upper income Americans, everysingle one of them could still be trillions of dollars short,"Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said on CBS' "Face theNation."

(Editing By Alistair Bell and Christopher Wilson)


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