Donald Lambro

Despite the ups and downs of the GOP primary battle throughout this four month period, "Obama and Romney have been closely matched in each of the three swing-states polls," Gallup said. They've "also been statistically tied in each of five polls conducted among national registered voters dating back to August."

"Thus, even as the Republicans' support for various candidates has fluctuated substantially, the preferences of all registered voters for Obama or Romney nationally and in the swing states have remained quite stable," the polling firm said.

As for Gingrich's earlier lead over Romney among all Republican voters, Gallup's surveys now show the former Georgia congressman's strength in both swing states and nationally "has deteriorated" since late November and early December.

Gallup said Monday that its "daily tracking of national Republican preferences for their party's nominee over the weekend shows Gingrich's lead over Romney slipping, with the two nearly back to a tie."

What all of this shows is that Obama remains a weak incumbent who hasn't been able to break out of his bleak job approval polls that are stuck in the mid-40s.

The reason why is the economy remains weak. It grew by an anemic 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter, while the national unemployment rate is stuck in the near-9 percent range, and forecasters say that is unlikely to improve anytime soon.

Obama's State of the Union address last week didn't do much to change the economic scores of his presidency. It was a pasty stew of higher spending for more public works projects, taxes on investments and small businesses and billions of dollars in special interest expenditures aimed at the voters he needs to win a second term.

As he enters the fourth year of his presidency, Obama clings to a rise in last month's jobs numbers that he says is proof the economy is improving.

But unemployment fell in December in large measure because so many discouraged workers stopped looking for a job and dropped out of the workforce. Even some of Obama's defenders are not impressed by the 200,000 jobs gained, calling it a statistical anomaly and predicting that unemployment will rise again this year in the midst of the election.

"I expect the unemployment rate to edge upwards in the next few months.... My bet is that we are still over 8 percent next December," liberal economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told the Washington Post last month. "I think [the decline in the jobless rate] is mostly a statistical fluke," Baker said.

So does the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office who projected Tuesday that the jobless rate would climb to 8.9 percent by the end of this year and rise to 9.2 percent next year.

The economy grew at a snail's pace 1.7 percent last year, a feeble rate that the Post's economics writer Peter Whoriskey called "a dismal result after many forecasts of robust growth made at the beginning of the year."

The fourth quarter's disappointing 2.8 percent growth rate -- well below bullish forecasts -- was further proof of the continuing economic impotence of the administration's policies.

"To put that in perspective, over the last 60 years, the average historical growth rate for the U.S. economy has been about 3.2 percent," Whoriskey writes.

No one expects this economy to take off this year or even next under Obama's direction. The Federal Reserve Board said as much last week.

Polls now showing the president tied with Romney may be the high point in Obama's last year in office.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.