LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
We're joined now by NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Good morning, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Linda.
WERTHEIMER: So, Mara, as we heard, President Obama and Mitt Romney are back on the road again, their conventions behind them. According to national polls, it looks like the Democrats got some momentum from their time in Charlotte.
LIASSON: Well, it does so far. President Obama looks like he's made gains in four separate national tracking polls. I think the big question now is how big will it be and, more importantly, whether it will last or not. We saw Mitt Romney make hardly any progress in the polls because of his convention, at least in terms of the horse race. But he did make some progress in his likability ratings, and he seems to have solidified his position a little bit better with Republican women.
WERTHEIMER: President Obama is campaigning in Florida. Mitt Romney is spending time in Virginia. Should we expect to see this race fought only in the swing states as we go forward?
LIASSON: I think it will be fought almost exclusively in the swing states. At this point, I think you can conveniently ignore the national horse race and just focus on the eight or 10 separate horse races in the swing states. That's where they're going. I think there are about eight to 10 states that will make a difference. That's why you see the president in Florida or Mitt Romney in Virginia. That's why both candidates have been spending time in Iowa and New Hampshire. Ohio is a really crucial state. Right now, you'd have to say that the president has a bit of an advantage in the battleground. If you look at how he runs against Mitt Romney in each of these eight to 10 states, he is a little bit ahead. He has more pathways to get to 270 electoral votes than Romney. Romney has more must-win states than President Obama. He really can't win without winning Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia, and that's a big chunk of the battleground.
WERTHEIMER: So, what about the latest jobs report? There was some suggestion that the jobs report from August was not so good and that would be a problem for the president, but the polls seem to be saying not so much.
LIASSON: Well, at least right now. I mean, that jobs report just wasn't good. It was below 100,000 jobs added. The unemployment rate dipped down. It dipped down because fewer people are looking for work. So, it's pretty bad news. And that is the real basis of the Romney campaign. Are you better off now than you were four years ago? And he can point to basic economic statistics to prove his point. And the president has to make a much more complicated argument. Things would have been worse without my policies or, conversely, the other guy would make it much worse.
WERTHEIMER: But President Obama does have some kind of built-in advantage, doesn't he, just by being the incumbent? He is the president.
LIASSON: There's no doubt about that. And if you were one of the two Americans that didn't know that the president had killed Osama bin Laden, after watching the Democratic National Convention this week, you certainly know it now. I think that he had commander-in-chief credentials and accomplishments that he could tout in Charlotte, and he did. You also see the advantage that an incumbent has, just being able to go second, just being able to have his convention after the challenger. In Charlotte, the Democrats were able to methodically answer and to try to demolish every single attack that the Republicans had launched in Tampa.
WERTHEIMER: The next big event of the election season are the presidential debates. The first one is October 3rd.
LIASSON: Yes, and debates are the last remaining game-changers that we have in this race. Of course, there are external events that we can't anticipate that might happen. But the debates are absolutely crucial. This race is still essentially tied. And the only chance that either of them will have to really break out are the debates. I think that Romney has some advantages in these debates. He's debated recently, so he's not out of practice. He dominated the debates in the Republican primary and he's been practicing a lot. He's taken many days off the campaign trail to get ready for these debates. President Obama hasn't debated anyone since John McCain in 2008. He's potentially rusty. And he also has a reputation for procrastinating a bit on debate prep. I think the Romney campaign in particular sees these debates as a chance for Romney to break out, much in the same way that Ronald Reagan did in 1980 in that one and only debate. Ronald Reagan convinced people that he was an acceptable alternative, there was nothing scary about him, and he convinced an electorate that was already ready to fire President Carter but wasn't sure about the challenger. And that's the model that the Romney campaign is looking at this year.
WERTHEIMER: Mara Liasson is NPR's national political correspondent. Mara, thanks.
LIASSON: Thank you, Linda.
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