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.
"Obama's ratings on the economy are significantly worse than all three prior successful presidential incumbents at this same point in their first term," Gallup reported Thursday.
"His 36 percent approval rating on the economy is well below George W. Bush's rating in August 2004 (46 percent), Bill Clinton's in August 1996 (54 percent), and Ronald Reagan's in July 1984 (50 percent), Gallup said.
It's worth noting that in Reagan's case, the 1984 election was all about Reagan's tax-cut-driven recovery versus tax hikes proposed by Democratic nominee Walter Mondale. Reagan won in a landslide, carrying 49 states.
In many ways, the central issue in 1984 was the same one we are fighting over today. Tax cuts to get the U.S. economy back on its feet, stimulate capital investment, create more jobs, and produce more revenue to boot.
Romney and Ryan are embracing lower taxes, just as Kennedy, Reagan and, eventually, even Bill Clinton did, to grow the economy, while Obama and the Democrats are running on major tax increases to grow the government and boost federal spending.
Obama and his party say lowering taxes will worsen the deficit, when the chief culprit driving Obama's deficits -- besides his spending binges -- is slowing (1.5 percent) economic growth and an 8.3 percent jobless rate. People who don't have jobs don't pay income taxes.
Meantime, another issue is emerging in the campaign that is hurting Obama's quest for a second term, and that is his directive to rewrite the welfare reform law of 1996.
That directive will grant waivers to the states to override the welfare reform law, according to a study written by two top analysts at the Heritage Foundation, Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley.
"The new welfare dictate issued by the Obama administration clearly guts the law...and seeks to impose its own policy choices -- a pattern that has become all too common in this administration," they wrote.
In a nut shell, Obama's directive says the "traditional TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) work requirements can be waived or overridden by a legal device called the section 1115 waiver authority," they said.
But the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service said in a separate study of that section that "Effectively, there are no TANF waivers."
The Romney campaign has been hitting the airwaves with an ad lambasting the administration for its back door attempt to undermine the welfare reforms, allowing welfare recipients to collect their checks without making any effort to get off welfare and on the employment rolls.
The Obama campaign has counterattacked, charging the ad is a lie and that Romney sought the same kind of waiver authority as governor.
But Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler, while criticizing the Romney ad, said "There is something fishy about the administration's process on this memorandum." He gave Obama "a solid three Pinocchios" for its shaky waiver claim against Romney, saying "there is little evidence that is the case.
Increasingly, as Obama's disapproval numbers worsen, his campaign has been making things up. A feeling of desperation and hysteria have begun to creep into their bipolar rhetoric, with Vice President Biden warning voters (guess who?) that Romney will "put y'all back in chains."
Historically, Gallup says, presidents who won a second term had near-50 percent job approval ratings. But with Obama's stuck in the mid-to-low 40s, it looks like the end is near.