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US party conventions approach

Polls show a razor’s edge separating the US presidential candidates as Republicans assemble next week to formally anoint Mitt Romney as standard-bearer and sign on to his promises to cut the US deficit, shrink government and cut taxes.

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Romney brings with him Paul Ryan as his vice presidential choice, a politician best known as author of a Republican plan to slash spending for social safety net programs and to fundamentally change the country’s half-century-old Medicare program, which is government health insurance for Americans over age 65.

President Barack Obama, polls show, maintains a slight lead over Romney even though the incumbent receives significantly lower marks for handling of the struggling economy, the top issue among US voters.

That may be a result of the president’s campaign having largely avoided the larger economic issues for nearly a month now.

Obama managed to keep much of the campaign focused on Romney’s gaffe-filled trip overseas, the vastly wealthy Republican’s refusal to release more than just two years of his federal returns, and on Ryan.

The Republican vice presidential pick is a darling of the hard-right tea party wing of the Republican party, and his vision for the future of Medicare has stirred a tumultuous debate over the beloved program.

Much as Republican Senator John McCain did four years ago in choosing Sarah Palin as vice presidential running mate, Romney is believed to have turned to Ryan as a way of solidifying his support among the conservative Republican base.

The increasingly deep conservatism that marks the party has made it difficult for Romney, who had a moderate record as governor of Massachusetts, to generate much excitement among Republicans.

Both sides will continue trying to inflict bruising punishment on each other in the week left before the Republicans officially nominate Romney and Ryan. Then the Democrats assemble in North Carolina for their party jamboree to celebrate Obama’s run for a

second term with Vice President Joe Biden.

Brutal as the campaign already is, it promises to grow even nastier once the conventions are done and Romney-Ryan and Obama-Biden begin the final two months of battle before the November 6 vote.