Obama Leads in Latest Swing-State Polls as Debate Nears

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally at the Farm Bureau Live arena in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on September 27, 2012. Photographer: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Barack Obama leads Republican challenger Mitt Romney in the swing state of New Hampshire and runs narrowly ahead of him in the battlegrounds of North Carolina and Nevada, according to polls released last night in the run-up to next week’s first presidential debate.

The latest results are in line with other recent surveys showing Obama with the edge in states that strategists in both parties say will decide who wins the White House on Nov. 6, the so-called swing states which have a history of voting for either major political party and the eight to 10 battlegrounds which the president and his challenger are actively contesting.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College poll shows Obama ahead among likely voters in New Hampshire, 51 percent to 44 percent, and with two-point edges in Nevada, 49 percent to 47 percent, and North Carolina, 48 percent to 46 percent.

The results for Nevada and North Carolina are within the margin of error for the surveys of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. The three states together account for 25 of the 270 electoral votes required to win the White House.

Romney “needs to change the whole dynamic,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York. “Right now, the trends are not going his way.”

Obama has led in the nine swing states surveyed by the Marist Institute for NBC News and the Journal since the end of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, earlier this month.

50 Percent

In five of the nine -- Colorado, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin and now New Hampshire -- Obama’s support has been at 50 percent or more. Along with North Carolina and Nevada, the other states where the polling has shown him ahead with less than 50 percent support are Florida and Virginia.

In Ohio, without which no Republican has won the White House, a CBS News/New York Times/Quinnipiac University poll taken Sept. 18-24 showed Obama ahead of Romney, 53 percent to 43 percent, among likely voters. The CBS/Times survey also put Obama ahead in Florida, the largest battleground state, 53 percent to 44 percent.

In the latest Bloomberg National Poll, Obama leads Romney among likely voters, 49 percent to 43 percent, even as 60 percent of Americans say the nation is headed off on the wrong track as the president completes his first term.

The Bloomberg poll found that 49 percent of likely voters consider Romney out of touch, compared with 40 percent who say that of Obama. The telephone survey of 1,007 adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, was conducted Sept. 21-24.

‘Last Chance’

The president is at 50 percent in the daily Gallup tracking poll of registered voters for the period Sept. 20-26, leading Romney, 50 percent to 44 percent. The poll for the period Sept. 15-21 had the two candidates tied at 47 percent.

Romney “needs to reverse his standing and the debates may be his last chance,” Miringoff said.

The two candidates square off Oct. 3 in Denver at a debate that will focus on the economy. By the time of their third face-off on Oct. 22, early voting will be under way in six of nine battleground states.

The polls show Romney struggling to convince swing-state voters that he can empathize with them.

In the CBS/Times survey, 57 percent in Florida and 59 percent in Ohio said Obama “cares about the needs and problems of people like you.” For Romney, a former private-equity executive with an estimated net worth of as much as $250 million, the comparable numbers were 41 percent in Florida and 38 percent in Ohio. In both states, majorities said Romney’s tax proposals would favor the rich.

Fundraising Events

Romney broke off the campaign trail last night to raise $5 million for his campaign and the Republican Party at a Washington hotel near the White House, where 400 donors paid as much as $50,000 to attend.

“This has been a presidency that has not worked,” Romney said of Obama at the gathering.

Romney, who had $50.4 million in his campaign bank account compared with $88.8 million for Obama entering September, also plans to raise money today in Pennsylvania and will hold a public rally in the state, where polls show a solid lead for the president.

Obama will hold fundraisers today at a hotel near the White House and at a private home, according to a campaign advisory.

Obama and Romney each appeared in Virginia yesterday, a day after both held multiple rallies in Ohio.

‘Stop It’

Speaking to military veterans in Springfield, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, Romney said the struggling economy was weakening the country and criticized Obama over automatic budget cuts -- including to defense -- set to take effect in January.

“The idea of cutting our military commitment by a trillion dollars over this decade is unthinkable and devastating,” he said at an American Legion post. “When I become president of the United States, we will stop it. I will not cut our commitment to our military.”

Obama and Republican congressional leaders agreed to the automatic cuts last year as part of a battle over the U.S. debt.

The president said yesterday his challenger represents a return to the policies of his predecessor, former President George W. Bush.

“We just tried this,” he said at a rally at Farm Bureau Live, an amphitheater in Virginia Beach. “It didn’t work then.”

Virginia Ads

The importance of Virginia is underscored in data from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks television advertising. Three television markets that reach state residents -- Washington, Norfolk and Richmond -- were among the 15 markets that ran the most presidential campaign ads in the seven-day period ending Sept. 24. Obama, Romney and their allies supplied 5,627 ads in those three markets during the week.

The latest Marist polls show Obama benefiting from higher favorability ratings than Romney. The president also is running close to his challenger or pulling ahead of him on the question of guiding the economy. For much of the year, Romney had an advantage over Obama in polls on the economic issue.

In Marist’s North Carolina poll, likely voters viewed Obama favorably, 50 percent to 46 percent; Romney’s figures were 46 percent favorable, 45 percent unfavorable. Romney had the edge on who would do a better job on the economy, 47 percent to 46 percent.

In New Hampshire, 54 percent of the likely voters viewed Obama favorably, 43 percent unfavorably. Romney had a favorable rating of 43 percent and a negative rating of 52 percent. Respondents said Obama would do a better job than Romney on the economy by 49 percent to 46 percent.

Favorability Factor

In Nevada, Obama was viewed favorably by 50 percent of likely voters and unfavorably by 47 percent, while Romney was viewed unfavorably by 48 percent and favorably by 45 percent. By 48 percent to 47 percent, voters said they thought Romney would do a better job handling the economy.

The surveys were conducted Sept. 23-25 of 984 likely voters in Nevada, 1,012 likely voters in New Hampshire, and 1,035 likely voters in North Carolina. The party breakdown among respondents was 38 percent Democratic, 31 percent Republican and 30 percent independent in Nevada; 25 percent Democratic, 25 percent Republican and 49 percent independent in New Hampshire; and 39 percent Democratic, 31 percent Republican and 30 percent independent in North Carolina.

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