President Barack Obama is in a tough race against Republican challenger Mitt Romney, just four months before US voters go to the polls on November 6.
This can be seen in an average of national polls, which currently gives Obama a narrow 3.7 per cent lead over Romney, according to realclearpolitics.com.
The tight contest is also clear in the increasingly desperate and aggressive tone of the Obama campaign's fund-raising appeals.
The president is momentarily riding high on his Supreme Court victory last week over conservative challenges to health care reform. Afterward, his campaign sent out an upbeat e-mail to supporters with the subject: "Let's win the damn election."
But in early June, the campaign's e-mail to supporters bore the shock label "We got beat" - an urgent appeal for 3-dollar donations because it said the Romney campaign had out-raised Obama in May with 76 million dollars to 60 million dollars.
Barely a day goes by without Obama supporters receiving a money plea. Last week, Julianna Smoot, Obama's deputy campaign manager, wrote supporters: "If we're drastically outspent in this election, there's a very good chance we will lose to Mitt Romney."
Obama's 2008 victory over Republican nominee John McCain was boosted by his internet mobilization of small donors, who helped the upstart Illinois senator far outspend his conservative rival.
Overall fundraising figures still show Obama with a clear lead thus far.
However, the 2012 campaign looks to be dominated by nominally independent "super PACs" - as the newly unfettered political action committees are known - collecting unlimited donations for political advocacy. The super PAC supporting Romney has out-raised Obama's super PAC by 61.5 million dollars to 14.6 million dollars.
In the hours after the Supreme Court turned back most of the constitutional challenges to Obama's health insurance law, Romney's official campaign raised 1 million dollars, media reports said. The Obama campaign refused to disclose if it saw any fundraising bump from the decision.
In a stumbling economy, Obama has much in common with his one-term predecessors Jimmy Carter and George Bush, and has dwindling similarities with Ronald Reagan, an embattled incumbent who saw a rapid turnaround in a bad economy pave the way for him to win a second term in 1984.
At this early stage of a presidential campaign, though, voter surveys are regarded even by pollsters as unreliable but do give the president one consistent advantage: Virtually the entire US electorate is familiar with Obama and every second person professes to like him personally.
By contrast, nearly 20 per cent of the electorate is still unfamiliar with Romney. Those voters will still have to be introduced to the 65-year-old former governor and businessman before voting for him. Romney will get a boost in name recognition during his formal nomination at the end of August at the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Romney's campaign has raised millions to spend on advertising, especially in nine so-called "battleground states" of Colorado, Iowa, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Hampshire.
What in the end will decide the race? If it's economic data, then it looks bad for Obama, with unemployment stuck at 8.2 per cent.
Is it the "empathy" factor? Then Romney's privileged upbringing and long career as a business executive, whose personal wealth is placed by his own campaign at up to 250 million dollars, could be an impediment.
His stiff personality and membership in the Mormon Church only further distance him from the everyman. Polls show Obama viewed as a more sympathetic figure by voters.
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