Literally no one doubts at this point, I think, that Romney’s post-debate surge is for real and not a bounce, so I’m not giving you these numbers to (re-)prove that point. I’m giving them to you to suggest that The One’s now in enough trouble that another bad performance tonight could be fatal. His margin of error in this campaign was always small, but after the Denver debacle shattered his aura of invincibility and with Romney poised to hit him with an avalanche of ad spending, it’s now basically down to zero. In fact, as I said yesterday, I’m not so sure he controls his own destiny anymore. If Romney handles the inevitable “47 percent” attack well tonight and does a solid job of relating to the questioners — not his strong suit, but he’s spent dozens of hours practicing now — his lead might open further still, even if O has an error-free debate and post-debate. The left’s not quite in panic mode yet, but if Romney shines tonight then it shall indeed be panic time in the West Wing bright and early tomorrow morning.

And you know what that means. Soon we might get to see those Bin Laden death photos after all.

Half of likely voters now prefer Mitt Romney for president and 46% back President Barack Obama in Gallup interviewing through Monday.

While Romney’s four-percentage-point advantage is not statistically significant, he has consistently edged ahead of Obama each of the past several days in Gallup’s seven-day rolling averages conducted entirely after the Oct. 3 presidential debate. Prior to that debate — regarded as a decisive Romney win by political experts and Americans who watched it — Romney averaged less than a one-point lead over Obama among likely voters.

How strong is Romney’s surge? Strong enough to make even his net favorable rating slightly higher than The One’s in RCP’s poll of polls, thus shattering the “likeability gap” that Team O worked so hard to build over the summer. That’s why Obama’s guaranteed to throw plenty of “47 percent” and “war on women” crap at him tonight. Painting Romney as a bad guy is a far more effective way to reach low-information voters than wonking out with him in a battle over economic plans.

Speaking of which, the key data from Gallup. The first two columns show Obama vs. McCain in 2008, the next two show Obama vs. Romney now, and the last two capture O’s advantage or disadvantage over McCain and Romney, respectively:

He’s lost points since 2008 among every single major demographic, but he’s down especially sharply with voters aged 30-49, postgrads, and college grads — essentially, the educated middle class (and upper class) in its prime career years. They didn’t lose as much ground economically from the recession as less educated voters did, if this Pew survey from 2010 is accurate, but it may be that their expectations for an Obama-driven economic turnaround were higher than anyone else’s. It didn’t happen, and now you’re seeing the disappointment of thwarted ambition start to register as a newly viable Romney emerges as a plausible alternative.

One more quote, this time from Mark Halperin, just to help you get your game face on for tonight’s debate:

Here’s why some Democrats are worried tonight. If Romney wins the three Southern battlegrounds (FL, NC, and VA) and OH, he is at 266 electoral votes. Leaving the other five battlegrounds unallocated, that means Obama would be at 237 and Romney would only need to win one of the remaining five states to get to 270+…

One senior Democratic official expressed real concern tonight unlike I have heard before about Ohio potentially slipping away from Obama (the state has been trending Republican in statewide races, Rob Portman has become a force, religious and gun groups are flooding the state with voter contacts, two of Romney’s top strategists have recently won a statewide race there, etc).

Follow the last link to see Halperin’s map with Ohio in Romney’s column. If it plays out this way, Romney would need any one of Wisconsin, Nevada, Iowa, Colorado, or New Hampshire to clinch the presidency — and if you believe ARG, he’s already tied with O in New Hampshire. Via Breitbart TV, here’s Gibbs breaking with the usual pre-debate spin and promising an “exceptionally strong” performance tonight by Obama. And why not? If O doesn’t deliver precisely that, no post-game talking points will save him.