Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - Let's get a few things straight about the presidential race between Barack Obama and former governor Mitt Romney. It's not a dead heat anymore.

Everyone knew this was going to be a close race, but as of this week, Romney moved slightly ahead of Obama. Not by much, maybe a couple of points, but he has clearly begun to move into the lead.

Heading into July, the race was clearly a tie, with the Gallup Poll showing each candidate at 46 percent in their head-to-head daily surveys. But something happened this week that appears to have changed the political equation.

Perhaps it was Romney's choice of veteran Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee. Or more evidence of the Obama economy's persistent weakness and soaring gasoline prices. Or the tough TV ads Romney has begun running, after months of being punched around by an avalanche of negative ads in the battleground states.

Whatever the reason, the numbers have begun to slowly but clearly edge Romney's way and Obama has taken a nosedive in his job approval ratings.

The first indication that Obama's shaky presidency was taking a tumble came Monday when the Gallup Poll's daily tracking survey showed his job approval numbers plunging to 43 percent and his disapproval climbing to 50 percent.

Then on Wednesday, Gallup's candidate matchup was suddenly leaning in Romney's direction, 47 percent to the president's 45 percent. That's where things stood heading into Friday.

While a number of factors are contributing to Obama's slight decline and Romney's rise in the national polls, there is no doubt the feeble economy and rising unemployment are the biggest factors driving this race.

Gallup proved that Thursday when it released new poll numbers showing that voters were giving Obama some of the worst scores of his failed presidency on the economy, creating jobs and four years of $1 trillion-plus deficits that deeply trouble the American people.

White House morale, which was sinking fast, must have sunk even further when they saw Obama's bleak approval-disapproval numbers on these issues:

-- Creating jobs: 37 percent approval and 58 percent disapproval.

-- The economy: 36 percent approval and 60 percent disapproval.

-- The federal budget deficits: 30 percent approval and 64 percent disapproval.

These aren't just disastorous job approval scores, they are among the worst in recent presidencies, including the one he followed in 2009.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.