“5 points”

-- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s advantage over President Obama among independent voters in the latest FOX News poll.

Republicans, invariably a pessimistic bunch about their chances to defeat President Obama in the fall, have been experiencing some green shoots of optimism of late as polls show their nominee, Mitt Romney, already nipping at Obama’s heels.

And with the president’s job approval rating hovering in the high 40s, Republicans should be optimistic. The nation is in a lousy mood, the economy is poor and a strong anti-incumbent sentiment still pervades. That is not a good climate for Obama.

But, the latest FOX News poll shows the path to victory for Obama: an enthusiastic Democratic base, a handful of holdout Republicans and grossed-out independents.

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    The poll shows Obama with his largest lead over Romney, 7 points, since last June. Last month, the poll showed the two men in a dead heat.

    Obama can credit his good showing the in the poll mostly to the flight of independent voters.

    The president’s support among Democrats ticked up 1 point to 88 percent while Romney’s support among Republicans fell by 4 points. That wouldn’t be such a big deal on its own. But factor in the 14 percent spike in independent voters who are undecided, and you have the makings of an Obama victory.

    In April, the poll found independents favoring Romney by a massive 13-point margin, now it’s 5 points. But the closing of the gap didn’t come from a surge in support for Obama among indies. The president dropped four points. Romney’s problem in this poll is that independents checked out.

    Come election time, Romney can expect that the Republicans, who are terrified at the thought of a second Obama term, will vote for him. Things like Rick Santorum’s post-campaign-suspension attack mailer in Iowa and grudging endorsement will have faded from memory.

    But there are considerably more Democrats than Republicans in the country, so the only way the GOP can win elections is by winning the independent vote. As younger voters become increasingly unwilling to form the lifelong party affiliations of their parents’ generation, the task becomes increasingly important.

    Romney can safely assume that the 6 percent of undecided Republicans will not only break his way, but that a substantial number of them will actually turn out to vote. He can’t say the same thing about the 36 percent of independents who declined to choose between him and Obama.

    Given voter attitudes, it’s unlikely for Obama to again win unaffiliated voters, certainly not by the whopping 8 points he carried them in 2008. But it would be enough for him to simply drive down turnout. Fed up independents are only trouble for incumbents if they bother to go vote.

    An undecided, unaffiliated American is not a very likely voter. This is why a nasty race suits Obama just fine. If the independents, especially moderate independents, get so disgusted with the process, the parties and the candidates that they conclude that all are unworthy, they may not vote.

    Obama has lost his 2008 brand as healer and change agent, but if he can help independent voters conclude that the two parties and the political system are beyond repair, they will have little reason to go vote.

    If the electorate in November looks like the sample in the latest FOX News poll, Romney would lose in a rout.

    Here’s the pickle for Romney. He has to prosecute Obama’s handling of the economy and of federal spending, but if he is locked in a six-month, scorched-earth battle with a better-funded incumbent, voters may simply tune out.

    The Day in Quotes

    “You have to ask the Speaker of the House whether or not he intends or he believes that it is the right thing to do for the American people or the American economy to play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States of America.”

    -- White House Press Secretary Jay Carney when asked about a warning from House Speaker John Boehner that a request from President Obama to increase the current $16.4 trillion limit on federal borrowing, expected to come between November and February, would have to be met with corresponding cuts in spending.

    “The sandwiches were delicious.”

    -- A senior House leadership aide when asked by Power Play about “any points of agreement” during a White House meeting between the president, the speaker of the House, the House minority leader and their Senate counterparts. Obama brought the group hoagies he picked up during a campaign appearance at a delicatessen.

    "I find it incomprehensible that a president could come to office and call his predecessor's record irresponsible and unpatriotic, and then do almost nothing to fix it and instead every year add more and more spending."

    -- Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney at a town-hall meeting in St. Petersburg, Fla.

    “It would be preferable to resolve this diplomatically and through the use of pressure than to use military force. But that doesn't mean that option is not fully available - not just available, but it's ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it's ready.”

    -- U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro quoted by Reuters discussing a U.S. strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities if the current negotiations fail.

    “That’s the choice they have to make, and it is a choice they cannot long put off.”

    -- British Prime Minister David Cameron speaking in Parliament about the decision facing Greeks on whether to leave the European Union and its currency, the euro. Cameron and other European leaders arrive in Washington Friday for a meeting of the Group of Eight hosted by President Obama.

    “And when you look at that and close your eyes, [North Carolina] is a state that’s going to be competitive for the rest of our lifetimes.”

    -- Obama Campaign Manager Jim Messina in an interview with The Hill predicting victory in the Tar Heel State based on its numbers of unregistered and persuadable voters and expressing “zero” regret for choosing the state for the site of the Democratic convention, despite strong warning signs for Democrats there.

    “My mother believed and my father believed that if I wanted to be president of the United States, I could be… I could be vice president.”

    -- Vice President Joe Biden campaigning in Youngstown, Ohio.

    The Big Numbers

    “$40.1 million”

    -- Combined April fundraising for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his party, up from $26.2 million in March. On Wednesday, President Obama and the Democratic Party announced combined fundraising of $43.6 million, down from $53 million in March.

    “49.6 percent”

    -- The share of U.S. births between July 2010 and June 2011 of non-Hispanic white children, according to the Census Bureau. It is the first “minority majority” birth year in U.S. history.


    -- The percent of U.S. homes in foreclosure from the fourth quarter of 2011 to the first quarter of 2012 – 4.4 percent – according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Delinquencies have returned to levels not seen since before the Panic of 2008.

    “$1 trillion”

    -- Revenues that the nation’s insurance companies would miss out in the next two years if the Supreme Court strikes down President Obama’s health law next month according to an analysis by Bloomberg Government. Two thirds of the money is expected to come from government subsidies if the law stands.


    -- The number of registered voters in Florida found to be deceased by an audit of the state’s voter rolls. The audit previously found about 2,600 voters whom officials believe may not be citizens.


    -- The number of votes President Obama’s budget received in House and Senate votes on Thursday.

    Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com.