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New polls show tightening race, President Obama at 51 percent

President Obama and Mitt Romney remain locked in a "virtual dead heat nationally," Washington Post writers Dan Balz and Jon Cohen wrote this morning.

President Obama and Mitt Romney remain locked in a "virtual dead heat nationally," Washington Post writers Dan Balz and Jon Cohen wrote this morning. Their evidence? A new poll showing Obama leading Romney 49 percent to 46 percent, a difference falling within the margin of error. The same poll shows the president's approval rating at 51 percent among registered voters.

The Huffington Post's Mark Blumenthal notes Obama's lead is "essentially unchanged" from the last WaPo/ABC News poll.

The new Politico/George Washington University poll and PPP poll help set the scene going into this week's Hofstra University debate. The Politico/GWU poll has the president leading Romney 50 to 48 percent in 10 "competitive states," and the PPP poll of likely voters shows Obama leading Romney 51 percent to 46 percent in Ohio.

This number, New York Magazine writer John Heilemann observed, is "still a big problem for Romney" as he reaches for the 270 electoral votes needed to win. In the HuffPo piece, Blumenthal wondered if a spike in TV ads in battleground states had contributed to the president's lead.

Joe Scarborough noted the importance of the Ohio numbers:

If you’re Mitt Romney, you’re most concerned about Ohio because if you’re down by five percentage points in a poll…that’s happening while early voting is going on. Bottom line is if he doesn’t win Ohio, he could still be elected [as president], but he’s got to run the table…he’s got to win them all.

Nate Silver, as one would expect, has been blogging diligently on the difference between state and national polls going into the election. He suggested today:

If the current polls hold, predicting the election outcome will boil down to making a series of educated guesses about the relationship between state and national polls, and between the Electoral College and the popular vote.

Another number worth pulling out of the Washington Post/ABC News poll is the president's 51 percent approval rating (with 47 percent disapproving). The same poll on Aug. 25th had the president's approval rating at 47 percent and 50 percent disapproving. When asked what single factor is most responsible for Obama hitting the 50 percent approval mark, Balz pointed to the economy:

Every poll that we’ve seen from mid-September on has shown some uptick at least in people’s attitudes about the direction of the country…There’s still a majority of people who think the country’s off track (56 percent in most recent poll say country is on wrong track, down from 69 percent in August), going in the wrong direction, but the percentage of people who now say it’s going in the right direction continues to tick up a little bit, and I think in many ways that’s the most important that is helping the president at this point during an otherwise pretty difficult period.