Polls from a trio of crucial swing states show President Barack Obama with small leads over presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, another sign that the 2012 campaign will be extremely competitive.
The NBC/Marist surveys released Thursday polled registered voters in Ohio, Virginia and Florida — arguably the three most coveted states for both candidates. Obama enjoys his largest lead over Romney in Ohio, where the president is favored by voters over the former Massachusetts governor, 48 percent to 42 percent. Meanwhile, the president’s leads over Romney in Virginia and Florida are identical: 48 percent to 44 percent. Obama’s four-point leads in Virginia and Florida are narrowly outside the poll’s margin of error of three percentage points.
Not only will the three states figure prominently in the 2012 electoral college map; they are also home to three elected officials rumored to be on Romney’s veep shortlist. The bad news for Romney: tapping Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R), Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R) as a running mate would not improve the Republican ticket’s chances in their respective stomping grounds. The NBC/Marist poll found there is little change when Portman, McDonnell or Rubio are added to the hypothetical matchup, with the Democratic ticket of Obama and Vice President Joe Biden maintaining their leads in all three states.
Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, reminded that Romney is still within striking distance in both Florida and Virginia, which Miringoff said could become the “ultimate battleground state.” Obama’s lead in Florida, while marginal, runs counter to the results of a poll by Quinnipiac released Wednesday. The Quinnipiac poll offered a very rosy outlook for Romney in the Sunshine State, giving him a six-point lead over Obama along with an edge in favorability.
But Romney has work to do in Ohio. The president’s upper-hand there might be emblematic of his overall standing in the Rust Belt, where the Obama administration’s successful restructuring of the U.S. automotive industry may prove to be a central factor for voters in states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and — yes — Ohio. According to Miringoff, Romney will need a victory in the region if he is to claim the 270 electoral votes necessary for a general election victory.
“Romney needs to break through someplace in the Midwest,” Miringoff said in a press release. “Although Obama carried the Buckeye State by five percentage points last time and leads by comparable numbers now, Romney’s hoping to repeat the GOP’s fortunes from 2004.”
Obama’s approval in all three states is in positive territory, according to the NBC/Marist poll. In both Virginia and Ohio, 49 percent of voters approve of the job the president is doing, while 45 percent disapprove. Among Florida voters, 48 percent approve of Obama’s job performance compared to 45 percent who disapprove.
The current PollTracker Average underscores how tight the race will likely be in the three decisive battlegrounds.
Tom Kludt is a newswriter for TPM. A former research intern and polling fellow for TPM, he lives and works in New York City. Tom graduated summa cum laude from the University of South Dakota in May of 2010 with a B.A. in Political Science and History. He can be reached at Tom (at) talkingpointsmemo.com.