Charles Dharapak/AP/File
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and his wife, Ann, campaign in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Oct. 7, 2012. Mr. Romney’s campaign is working hard to chip away at President Obama’s advantage among early voters, and there are signs the effort is paying off in North Carolina and Florida, two competitive states that the Republican nominee can ill afford to lose.

Swing state polls echo national trend: Mitt Romney on the rise

In one set of polls, conducted by The Wall Street Journal, NBC News, and Marist College, President Obama and Mitt Romney are in a dead heat among likely voters in Florida and Virginia. But in Ohio, Obama is leading.

A slew of battleground-state polls out Thursday shows a presidential race that has tightened in several key states, echoing national polls that show a bounce for Republican Mitt Romney after his strong debate performance Oct. 3.

In one set of polls, conducted by The Wall Street Journal, NBC News, and Marist College, President Obama and Mr. Romney are in a dead heat among likely voters in Florida (Obama, 48 percent; Romney, 47 percent) and in Virginia (Romney, 48; Obama, 47). In Ohio, Obama leads 51 percent to 45 percent.

Earlier this month, before the debate, Romney trailed in Ohio by eight percentage points, 51 percent to 43 percent, according to the same poll. In Virginia, he trailed 48 percent to 46 percent, and in Florida, it was Obama, 47 percent; Romney, 46.

The other set of polls, by The New York Times, CBS News, and Quinnipiac University, showed slight gains for Romney among likely voters in Wisconsin, Virginia, and Colorado since September. In Wisconsin, Obama now leads 50 percent to 47 percent, compared with 51 percent to 45 percent a month ago. In Colorado, the race is still in a statistical dead heat, but with Romney now up one percentage point, 48 percent to 47 percent, instead of down a point, where he was a month ago.

And in Virginia, Obama still has a clear lead over Romney, 50 percent to 46 percent, but down a point from September, when he led 51 percent to 46 percent. Virginia is the only state that both polls surveyed, and if the results are averaged, Virginia is also in a dead heat.

The last new swing-state poll out Thursday, by Suffolk University in Boston, shows Nevada's likely voters going for Obama, but by only two percentage points, 47 percent to 45 percent – within the poll's margin of error of 4 percent.

All of these states went for Obama four years ago, and if Romney is to unseat the incumbent, he has to win most of them. So, he still has his work cut out for him. The debate Thursday night between Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, and Vice President Joe Biden is a critical step along the way. Typically, vice presidential debates don’t matter, but in this case, Congressman Ryan has an opportunity to keep his ticket’s momentum going. Mr. Biden’s task is to halt that narrative of an incumbent administration on the ropes.

Voters in the swing state polls concluded by a wide margin that Romney had won the Oct. 3 debate, though that didn’t shake most voters off their pre-debate choice.  One mitigating factor, evident in the NYT/CBS/Quinnipiac poll, is the perception that the economy is improving, as seen in last week’s news that September unemployment dropped to 7.8 percent, down from 8.1 percent the month before.

The biggest prize among swing states is Florida, with 29 electoral votes. If Romney loses there, he almost certainly cannot win the election. But if Florida goes for Romney, he still most likely has to win Ohio, the nation’s reigning presidential bellwether state. Ohio has the longest record of voting for the winner, every election since 1964. No Republican has won the presidency without winning Ohio.  

The key to winning Ohio this cycle is early voting, says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

According to the poll, almost 1 in 5 Ohio voters has already cast a ballot, and among them, Obama is ahead 63 percent to 37 percent.

 “Among those who will vote on Election Day, there is only a two-point Obama-Romney difference,” Mr. Miringoff writes.

The only caveat about Ohio’s role in the 2012 race is that it now has just 18 electoral votes, two fewer than it did four years ago. Depending on how the battle for swing states goes for each candidate, in the race to reach 270 electoral votes, that two-point reduction could matter. Some political analysts are even talking about a possible rerun of 2000, when the winner of the popular vote (Democrat Al Gore) did not win in the Electoral College.

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