WASHINGTON — Stubbornly close and deeply divisive, the presidential race throttles into its last 100 days as an enormous clash over economic vision, with the outcome likely to come down to fall debates, final unemployment numbers and fierce efforts to mobilize voters.
Polling shows the contest between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney remains remarkably static across the country. The upcoming stretch is loaded with opportunities for the candidates to capture the public's imagination, land a big blow or flub a chance. Romney is closing in on his vice presidential nominee, both candidates will give convention speeches, and the two will face off three times in October debates.
Then there are the surprises that can jolt the campaigns and test the candidates.
"We're all looking for that moment," said David Gergen, a political analyst. He predicted it could come in the first of the debates, in Denver on Oct. 3, when Obama and Romney stand on a stage and engage over economic policy.
Gergen said it could be the most defining debate in more than 50 years. "Obama is leading, but it's often 47-45. He's still got to get to 50," he said. "If the undecided voters all break at the last minute, that could go against the incumbent. If Obama wants to wrap it up, the first debate carries enormous significance."