US President Barack Obama has carved out a clear advantage in the White House race even as he juggles the demands of his re-election campaign with managing a raging Middle East crisis.
Obama appears to be enjoying a resilient bounce following the Democratic National Convention nearly two weeks ago, while his Republican challenger Mitt Romney has struggled to land telling blows.
The US leader has a small, but definite, advantage in most national polls of the race to the Nov. 6 election, and, more importantly, looks strong in swing states that will decide whether he wins a second term.
However, while he has benefited from the advantages of incumbency — including an ability to appear statesmanlike, Obama could also experience its downside if anti-US feeling racing through the Muslim world takes another deadly turn.
So far, Obama appears to have avoided missteps following the deaths of four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, that would erode his national security edge over Romney.
The president was up 10 points over his rival when voters were asked before the crisis who they trust more to steer foreign policy, in a CBS/New York Times poll.
Obama’s campaign team would welcome an election fought over the more friendly terrain of national security, rather than the tepid economy, for which he is responsible.
However, with Americans, including diplomats and Marines sent to protect them, vulnerable in the Arab world, Obama cannot yet afford to breathe easy.
“If this mushrooms and goes on, and we’re seeing people attacking US interests, then yes, it would raise foreign policy on the agenda of the election,” said Michele Dunne, director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.
However, Dunne added that even if unrest in North Africa and elsewhere went on, it was unlikely to trump the economy as the dominant issue of the election.
In recent days, Obama has repeatedly been called upon to handle the threats to US targets in Yemen, Sudan, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere, with one eye on his political prospects.
On Friday, he officiated in the return of the US dead from Libya, then nipped out of the White House for meetings with his campaign team and a big money fundraiser in Washington.
Obama fitted in trips to swing states Nevada and Colorado, with visits to Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin and Virginia on deck. Eight weeks before the election and three weeks before the first of three presidential debates with Romney, Obama appears well placed.
In Gallup’s daily tracking poll on Saturday, Obama was up 49 percent to 45 percent on Romney and in the RealClearPolitics average of national polls, he was up 3 percent on the Republican.
In Wall Street Journal/NBC/Marist College polls, Obama led Romney 49 percent to 44 percent in Florida, by 50 percent to 43 percent in Ohio and in Virginia by 49 to 44 percent.
Should Obama duplicate that performance in November, he would easily capture the required 270 electoral votes.
However, Romney has struggled to assert himself since he owned the spotlight at his Florida convention last month.
His hair trigger criticism of Obama as sympathizing with protesters who invaded the US embassy in Cairo prompted Obama to label him a “shoot first, aim later” candidate, and undermined foreign policy credentials tarnished by an error-strewn trip abroad.