Powered by his widely-acclaimed debate performance last week, Mitt Romney has closed a 9 percentage-point gap and is once again tied with President Obama in the latest The Washington Times/Zogby Poll conducted by Zogby Analytics, released Monday.
Likely voters who watched Wednesday's debate overwhelmingly scored it a win for Mr. Romney, 65 percent to 14 percent for Mr. Obama, and among independents it was even worse for the president — only 8 percent said he triumphed.
The poll showed Mr. Romney turning the gender gap in his favor, recapturing an overall lead among independent voters and taking the lead when voters were asked who they thought would do a better at handling jobs and the economy.
"Don't ever ask again if debates matter," said John Zogby, the pollster who conducted the survey.
The poll was taken Friday through Sunday, meaning voters also had time to digest Friday's monthly jobs report, which signaled the unemployment rate has dropped below 8 percent for the first time since Mr. Obama took office.
Mr. Romney led in the poll 45.1 percent to 44.5 percent when he was stacked up against Mr. Obama alone. Adding in third-party candidates such as Libertarian nominee Gary E. Johnson gave Mr. Obama a slight edge, 45.5 percent to 45 percent.
Both numbers, though, represent a major change from a week earlier, before the debate, when Mr. Obama was flirting with 50 percent — a 9 percentage-point lead over Mr. Romney.
"Obama lost as many points as Romney gained. And Romney has now pulled ahead among independents and consolidated a few of his own groups," Mr. Zogby said.
Curiously, voters disagreed with some of Mr. Romney's answers to the most notable exchanges in the debate, even as they scored him the winner.
A strong majority said the federal government should continue to send taxpayers' money to PBS, contradicting Mr. Romney's vow to end funding for public television and some related programs such as "Sesame Street."
And voters also seemed to prefer Mr. Obama's plan to cut tax subsidies to oil companies and corporate jet manufacturers over Mr. Romney's plan to cut subsidies to green energy companies.
But on the key question of Mr. Romney's tax plan, which he says can lower rates and still balance the books, voters were split down the middle: 350 voters said the math adds up, 350 voters agreed with Mr. Obama that it was impossible, and the other 100 were unsure who was right.
Debates have a way of elevating challengers to the level of incumbent presidents in voters' eyes, and Mr. Romney appears to be benefitting both from that and from a sense among voters that many of them would be comfortable with him.
Just as important, Mr. Romney's own backers are once again enthusiastically behind him, and have regained some confidence that he can win the election.
That shows in the polls, but also shows up at the rallies and in the rush on Romney campaign buttons and yard signs that local GOP offices reported in the wake of the debate.
On Monday, supporters sporting ponchos, raincoats and umbrellas braved chilly temperatures, heavy rain and sloppy grounds to see Mr. Romney speak at a rally in Newport News, Virginia.
"People wonder why is it I'm so confident we're going to win. I'm confident because I see you here on a day like this. This is unbelievable. Thank you so much," Mr. Romney told the audience, which by the campaign's count was upward of 500 people.
Democrats, meanwhile, are getting nervous over the direction of the race.
"We could hardly sleep last night," the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said in a fundraising plea to supporters Monday that pointed to Gallup's latest tracking survey that, like The Times/Zogby Poll, showed a tied race.
Yet another poll, by the Pew Research Center, showed Mr. Romney with a 4 percentage-point lead among likely voters. The Pew poll also credited Mr. Romney's debate performance for the jump, which reversed an 8-point lead for Mr. Obama last month.
With little to do but acknowledge he botched the debate, Mr. Obama on Sunday joked about it, telling the audience at a fundraiser in Los Angeles on Sunday he couldn't compare with the performances the donors had just heard: Jon Bon Jovi, Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry and Earth, Wind and Fire.
"They're such great friends, and they just perform flawlessly night after night. I can't always say the same," he quipped.
Still his party has not abandoned him. Indeed, Democrats are as enthusiastic about Mr. Obama as ever, and still expect him to triumph on Nov. 6.
Republicans have challenged many polls this year, arguing they oversample Democrats, who are overwhelmingly pro-Obama.
Like most polls, the Times/Zogby Poll is weighted for demographics. The poll sample included 38 percent Democrats, 35 percent Republicans and 27 percent independents. The breakdown for ideology was 21 percent liberal, 36 percent moderate and 43 percent self-identified conservatives.
The poll was conducted by live interview, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
• Seth McLaughlin, traveling with the Romney campaign in Newport News, Va., contributed to this article.
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