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 appeared on Sunday to have halted his perilous slide in the polls and is back to running a close race with President Barack Obama as he prepares a new assault on the Democrat over foreign policy.

A solid performance against Obama at Wednesday's first presidential debate in Denver has helped the Republican challenger regain ground in several swing states after three weeks of campaign stumbles that had appeared to jeopardize his chances of winning the Nov. 6 election.

Romney is now sounding more confident and has put the normally sure-footed Obama campaign on the defensive with a vice presidential debate coming up on Friday between the gaffe-prone Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan.

Romney is to deliver a foreign policy address in Virginia on Monday to try to put more pressure on Obama after the deaths of four Americans in Libya last month, including ambassador Christopher Stevens.

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

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

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

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

"Romney's performance in the debate I think has improved his share of the vote for now ... It's a significant change from where we were a couple of weeks ago," said Ipsos pollster Julia Clark.


An average of polls by in several swing states also showed a tightening in the race in some of the places where the election will be decided. Romney was about even with Obama in Florida and Virginia and 3 points behind him in Ohio.

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

Not taken into account yet was the possible impact of the improvement in the U.S. jobless rate announced on Friday. It fell to 7.8 percent in September, the lowest in almost four years, and gave Obama a talking point to defend his stewardship of the economy.

Obama flew to California on a fund-raising swing on Sunday to 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 showing was less than electrifying.

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

Campaign officials said Obama would try to challenge Romney more on what they felt were distortions by the Republican challenger. They have been complaining in particular about Romney's vow to cut income taxes across the board for all Americans by 20 percent.

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

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

(Editing By Alistair Bell and Christopher Wilson)


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