WASHINGTON - With less than a month before Americans head to the polls, the 2012 U.S. presidential race has turned into a thrill-a-minute roller-coaster ride as Mitt Romney — reportedly thrown a lifeline by his wife and son — coasts past Barack Obama in a pair of public opinion polls.
Romney's decisive thrashing of the president in last week's first debate, and his step to the centre of the political spectrum, has propelled him past Obama nationally in a pair of new polls.
A Public Policy Polling survey released Tuesday had Romney with 49 per cent support of respondents, compared with 47 per cent for Obama. Those findings followed a Pew Research Center survey that showed Romney at 49 per cent and Obama at 45 per cent.
Gallup's daily roundup of polls has also suggested Romney erased Obama's lead nationally. And in key swing states where Obama once dominated, Romney now appears to be nipping at the president's heels.
Romney's moment in the sun comes less than a week after Obama was building a comfortable lead against his Republican rival in the same polls, particularly in critical battleground states.
What a difference a bad debate for Obama — and a Romney family intervention — seems to be making.
Ann and Tagg Romney are reportedly behind the new and improved candidate. Politico.com reported on Tuesday that Romney's wife and eldest son have wrested control of his campaign from some of his political handlers.
The family pushed for a "softer and more moderate image" for Romney, one that "more accurately reflected the looser, generous and more approachable man they knew," Politico reported.
The Romneys blamed the Republican nominee's chief strategist, Stuart Stevens, for the flailing campaign. Tagg Romney has now taken a much more active role in managing his father's campaign.
Stevens had already lost one battle to the Romneys. He was opposed to the candidate delivering a high-profile speech earlier this week on foreign policy, arguing that Americans care primarily about jobs and the economy.
The Obama campaign, meantime, is toiling mightily to get back on solid footing. But even the affable Big Bird wouldn't lend the president a helping hand on Tuesday.
Team Obama released a new TV ad on Tuesday that mocked Romney for proposing cutting PBS's funding while going easy on Wall Street. The spot portrays the beloved Big Bird as the shady criminal mastermind behind an array of financial wrongdoing.
But Sesame Street didn't find it terribly funny, and asked the Obama campaign to take the ad down.
"Sesame Workshop is a non-partisan, non-profit organization and we do not endorse candidates or participate in political campaigns," the show said in a statement.
"We have approved no campaign ads, and as is our general practice, have requested that the ad be taken down."
Where Big Bird has failed Obama, Joe Biden is hoping to step in as white knight.
The notoriously gaffe-prone vice-president is going toe to toe with Paul Ryan on Thursday night in the only debate between the two running mates.
Democrats say Biden is preparing for his Kentucky showdown with Ryan with vim and vigor amid suddenly high stakes for a debate that ordinarily doesn't get much attention.
Biden aides say he's been poring over video of Ryan speeches and interviews, in addition to reading "Young Guns," a book Ryan co-wrote with two other top congressional Republicans. Ryan, however, is largely considered the more skilled debater, and is favoured to win the debate.