Polls highlight urgent challenge for Romney


Barack Obama is outperforming his opponent on nearly every major issue in Ohio and Florida, write JIM RUTENBERGand JEFF ZELENYin Columbus, Ohio

FOR WEEKS, Republicans in Ohio have been watching with worry that the state’s vital 18 electoral votes were trending away from Mitt Romney. The anxiety has been similar in Florida, where Republicans are concerned that President Barack Obama is gaining the upper hand in the fight for the state’s 29 electoral votes.

Those fears are affirmed in the findings of the latest Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News polls of likely voters in both states, which show that Obama has widened his lead over Romney and is outperforming him on nearly every major campaign issue, even though about half said they were disappointed in Obama’s presidency.

The polls, along with interviews with supporters and advisers in the nation’s two largest battleground states, lay bare an increasingly urgent challenge facing Romney as he prepares for his next chance to move the race in his favour at the first debate with Obama next week.

Romney’s burden is no longer just to win over undecided voters but also to woo back the voters who seem to be growing a little comfortable with the idea of a second term for Obama.

As Romney arrived in Ohio on Tuesday for a two-day bus tour and the president was due yesterday, the poll also found potential openings where Romney could gain support. More voters say he will be better than Obama at tackling the budget deficit – the only major issue where he had such an edge – and a majority agree with his assertions that the government is doing too much of what should be left to individuals and businesses.

But Romney is facing mounting hurdles in these two critical battlegrounds that hold nearly as many electoral votes as the rest of the swing states combined. His lead among older Americans has shifted towards an advantage for Obama; his competitiveness with Obama on who would better handle the economy has dipped into slightly negative territory; more view Romney unfavourably than favourably – the opposite is true for the president – and majorities say Romney does not care about the problems of people like them.

In Columbus, where both campaigns are advertising heavily, the sense that Romney is still failing to connect with average, working-class voters is causing concern among some supporters.

At the Maranatha Baptist Church, which sits in the middle of an industrial area on the outskirts of town, the Rev Timothy Kenoyer said that even though he believed Obama was auguring an era of “socialism” – and that an economic malaise had set into his neighbourhood – he was pessimistic about Romney’s chances. “If Romney was a middle-class man, or not incredibly wealthy, that would be a contributor to a greater degree of accessibility,” Kenoyer said.

Accusing the mainstream media of favouring Obama, he said he would vote for Romney, based more on the Republican Party platform, though he said: “He doesn’t fire me up.”

That tracked with the survey results that found that 48 per cent of likely Romney voters in Ohio supported him with reservations or because they dislike Obama, compared with 51 per cent who said they strongly favoured him. Obama is strongly favoured by two-thirds of his likely voters, with 33 per cent saying they favour him with reservations or because of dislike of Romney.

The New York Times, in collaboration with Quinnipiac University and CBS News, is tracking the presidential race with recurring polls in six states. In Ohio – which no Republican has won the presidency without – Obama is leading Romney 53 to 43 per cent in the poll. In Florida, the president leads Romney 53 to 44.

The surveys, which had margins of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for each candidate, also included a Pennsylvania poll, where Obama is leading Romney by 12 percentage points. The polls were conducted as the Romney campaign grappled with fallout last week from the release of his tax returns and remarks he made at a fundraiser in which he bluntly suggested that 47 per cent of Americans saw themselves as victims dependent on the government. That was the latest in a string of setbacks for the campaign that appears to be sapping the optimism of some of his supporters.

“Romney needs a PR person,” Natalie McGee, a law student at Ohio State University who supports him, said during an interview on campus, where Obama volunteers were working to register voters and rally supportive students.

With 41 days remaining until the election, aides to Romney acknowledge that they are not leading in either state but dispute the contention that the race has shifted towards Obama. Political director Rich Beeson said aboard Romney’s plane that the campaign’s internal data showed a closer race.

Several Republican strategists in Florida said they believed Obama had an advantage but disputed it was as wide as the poll suggested. Some polls have shown the race in Florida to be tighter, although Obama has gained strength in some recent polls.

In the Florida poll, among the likely voters who say they are “definitely” going to vote, more respondents identified themselves as Democrats (36 per cent) than as Republicans (27 per cent); independents were 33 per cent.

The Florida poll found that Obama holds nearly a 20-point lead among women, while Romney’s edge among men is about three points.

The Obama campaign intends to increase its advertising, aides said, to try to keep pushing Florida away from Romney as early voting begins next week.

Sharon Whalen (56), a former travel agent from Dade City who said she and her husband voted for John McCain of Arizona, the Republican nominee in 2008, said she had developed “a very bad impression of Romney”. She said she intends to support Obama and is troubled by the Republican ticket’s plan for Medicare.

“There’s just something about him I don’t trust,” said Whalen, a poll respondent who spoke in a follow-up interview. “He’s more for helping the rich.”– (New York Times)

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