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Republicans say momentum is on Romney's side in new polls

 

Republicans said momentum is on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's side as a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showed Romney drawing even with President Barack Obama.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., analyzes the state of the presidential race in the swing state of Florida.

As the 2012 election enters its home stretch — 16 days and one final presidential debate remain before Election Day — Obama and Romney were tied at 47 percent among likely voters nationwide.

"I like what I see, because the trend is in our direction," said Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, a top surrogate for the Romney campaign. "The enthusiasm and energy are on our side."

Sen. Rob Portman discusses Republican nominee Mitt Romney's platform for foreign policy and the economy.

NBC/WSJ poll: Presidential contest now tied

Romney has closed the gap versus Obama in a series of national and battleground state polls released since the first presidential debate earlier this month, when the Republican presidential nominee was generally acknowledged to have bested the president. The momentum for Romney has spurred Republican optimism that they may be able to defeat Obama, who's led his Republican challenger in most polls throughout the year. 

"We feel good about where we are. We feel we're even or ahead in these battleground states," said senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod about the new poll numbers. 

As Obama and Romney prepare for the debate on foreign policy Monday night in Florida, new polls emerge showing the candidates are in a 47-47 percent tie among likely voters. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

RELATED: Obama and Romney each emphasize early voting

The Romney resurgence must play out in a series of crucial battleground states — Florida, Ohio and Virginia, in particular — if the Republican challenger is to subsume Obama on Nov. 6. 

"We like the way Florida's going," said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) of the movement in Romney's direction. "We've always predicted it would go this way."

Both Obama and Romney have barnstormed these battleground states in recent weeks, encouraging supporters to vote early and trying to persuade a winnowing sliver of undecided voters. 

Each campaign had evidence for optimism as of Sunday. Republicans circulated an editorial from the Columbus Dispatch of Ohio, which called the president "unsuited to a second term." Axelrod pointed to state-level polls — including the NBC/WSJ/Marist polls this Thursday, which showed Obama leading by eight points in Iowa and six in Wisconsin — as evidence of the president's Electoral College firewall. 

NBC/WSJ/Marist polls: Obama holds lead in Iowa and Wisconsin

The candidates will get their next opportunity to shake up those poll numbers on Monday evening, when they meet for their third and final debate of the election. That debate, which will be hosted at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., is supposed to focus primarily on issues of foreign policy. 

Obama and Romney have sparred most intensely on the topic of how the president and his administration have managed the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. 

Axelrod unleashed a harsh attack on Romney, accusing the GOP nominee of "disgraceful" behavior for releasing a statement shortly after the events in Benghazi, which essentially accused the administration of sympathizing with the attackers, and apologizing for American values. 

"There's only one candidate here who's tried to exploit it from the beginning," Axelrod said. "Even while the flames were burning in Benghazi, Mitt Romney was sending out political press releases."

The Republican nominee has latched onto the administration's shifting explanations for the attack to make the case that Obama was essentially caught off-guard by the attacks. The administration at first said the attacks were the spontaneous outgrowth of protests related to a controversial video, but has shifted to acknowledge the attack in Libya was coordinated by terrorists.

Romney has also argued the administration has been insufficiently tough toward Iran's nuclear program, an assertion that might be colored by a new New York Times report that the administration and the Iranian government had agreed to one-on-one negotiations after the election. The administration called the report untrue, and both Portman and Rubio declined to hit Obama on that basis. 

But, in anticipation of tomorrow's debate, Portman said: "I think what you're going to see is Gov. Romney lay out a clear agenda for how to get Iran to do the right thing."

"They're feeling the heat, and that's what the sanctions were meant to do," Axelrod said in defense of the administration's handling of Iran. The Obama campaign adviser also ridiculed Romney's foreign trip this past summer as a "Dukes of Hazzard  tour of international destinations."

The Obama campaign has also sought to reignite a battle over women's issues in the last week to bolster the president's advantage among women voters. Obama led Romney, 51 to 43 percent, among women in the new NBC/WSJ data, but that was a narrower advantage for Obama than in past editions of the poll. 

The president's campaign has sought to remind voters of Romney's promises to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, or his promises during primary season to sign legislation to curb access to abortion, should it cross his desk. The Obama campaign also seized on Romney's remarks during last Tuesday's debate that he had "binders full of women" prepared for him as governor to help increase gender diversity in his office.

Rubio argued those attacks masked a bereft second-term agenda from Obama, and that Romney had begun to close the gender gap by focusing on issues of jobs and the economy.

"You just read a poll that the gender gap is narrowing," Rubio said. "The reason why is because Barack Obama is not offering anything."