The Washington Times - October 16, 2012, 03:56PM

Mitt Romney has opened up a 4-point lead among likely voters, 50 percent to 46 percent, in figures released Tuesday by Gallup ahead of the evening’s presidential debate, where the Republican will look to continue the momentum that has him surging past President Obama in recent polls.

Prior to the first presidential debate in Denver on Oct. 3, Mr. Romney had averaged less than a one-point lead among likely voters.

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Mr. Romney also caught up to Mr. Obama among registered voters in the survey, with the two men tied at 47 percent apiece among that bloc. Mr. Obama had generally held a 5-to-6-point lead among those voters in late September/early October, Gallup said.

Compared to 2008, when Mr. Obama defeated Republican John McCain by 7 percentage points, the president has lost significant support from voters in the south, 30-to-49-year-olds, people with college degrees, men, and Protestants, according to Gallup. His support has remained relatively steady among 18-to-29-year-olds, seniors, nonwhites, and western and midwestern voters, but the president has not gained support from any major group compared to four years ago.

“Gallup research indicates that debates are rarely transformative events in presidential elections, but Denver may ultimately be seen as an exception, given the changes, albeit minor, that ensued in what has been a highly competitive election,” wrote Gallup’s Lydia Saad. “Obama must now hope to reverse those with a resounding win of his own in at least one or both of the upcoming debates in New York and Florida.”

Mr. Obama’s campaign has consistently said that tight margins are no surprise and they always expected a close race.

But the campaign also moved swiftly to discredit a USA Today/Gallup survey released Monday that gave Mr. Romney a 5-point edge (51 percent to 46 percent) in 12 swing states, saying the poll also showed Mr. Romney tied with the president among women who are likely to vote — something the Obama camp said is impossible to believe.

The complaints about polls are a reversal from three weeks ago, when Republicans were complaining that surveys were skewed toward Mr. Obama and GOP pollsters said some polls were sampling a higher percentage of Democrats than they should have been.