The Battleground Poll is one of the most respected polls out there, conducted by the Republican Tarrance Group and the Democratic Lake, Snell, Perry. Their new numbers are up, and they have to be encouraging for the President.
Not only does he lead by 5 points overall, he also leads by 5 points in the "definitely" category, has a job-approval of 53%, and much, much better positive/negative name ID than Kerry, especially among the "feels strongly" category.
The latest numbers are from 9/23, but by then the public had already been exposed to the new, improved Kerry for a little more than a week, and there's virtually no movement in who the public prefers concerning terror, Iraq, and keeping the country safe. On economic issues, Kerry barely fares better than the President.
The generic Congressional ballot has the Dems up by a point, after having led throughout the entire year.
Look, Reagan didn't seal the deal against Carter until the debates. The polls were bouncing around before the debates, and even up until election day, Reagan hadn't opened up a clear lead. Gallup had Carter up by 4.5 points n September 9th. People didn't trust Carter, didn't like Carter, but weren't ready to take a flyer on Reagan until they saw him live and unmediated. Kerry is probably hoping for a similar dynamic in the debates.
Just one thing: Bush isn't Carter.