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Battleground polls: Is Romney's path to the White House now more difficult?

By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Political Editor
updated 1:04 PM EDT, Mon September 17, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • New polls from Ohio, Florida and Virginia suggest difficulties ahead for Romney
  • Top Romney pollster not worried: "Mitt is extremely well-positioned to win"
  • Still, campaign sees a '3-2-1' strategy to get to 270 electoral votes

Washington (CNN) -- One week past the conventions, a flood of polls have been released in crucial battleground states in the race for the White House. And some of them paint a picture that looks more favorable to President Barack Obama than to Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

The polls do have some things in common. They're all of the smaller pool of likely voters and all were conducted after the close of last week's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.

And several suggest that Romney's electoral path to victory on November 6 is becoming more difficult.

New national numbers in race for White House

The Romney campaign's pollster tells CNN his view of the race has not changed.

"There's nothing in the post-DNC polling that's been released over the last few days to indicate that this is anything but an extremely tight race that Mitt is extremely well-positioned to win," says Neil Newhouse.

New polls released Thursday by NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist show Obama with five-point, 49%-44% advantages in Florida and Virginia. The president's margins are within the sampling error.

Check out the CNN Electoral Calculator to pick your own path to 270.

Other new partisan polling in Florida released after the conventions indicates a much closer race in the Sunshine State.

In a third state, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist survey indicates the president leads 50%-43% in Ohio. A poll also out Thursday by American Research Group indicates a dead heat in the Buckeye State, with Obama at 48% and Romney at 47% among likely voters. And a partisan poll also has the race basically tied.

"The last three polls released in Ohio before the conventions also differed -- one with Obama ahead by six points, and another with him ahead by three, and a third, conducted by mail, that showed the race a tie. The average of those three polls showed 48% for Obama and 45% for Romney. The average of the two post-convention polls have the race at Obama 49% and Romney 45%. None have shown Romney with more support than Obama," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

While there is still plenty of time for Romney to gain ground, the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist polls indicate that there are not that many people left who have not made up their minds. Six percent of likely voters questioned in Ohio say were unsure, with only 5% in Florida and Virginia undecided.

Ohio trending for Obama; Florida, Virginia tied

The other number working to Romney's disadvantage is that the percentage of likely voters saying things are headed in the right direction, while still a minority, is rising.

The polls suggest it may be more difficult for Romney to achieve a "3-2-1" pathway to the 270 electoral votes need to win the White House:

TAKE BACK THREE KEY STATES: The "3" in that plan consists of recapturing the three states that Obama won in 2008 that historically have voted Republican in presidential elections: Indiana, North Carolina, and Virginia. While Indiana appears to be safe for Romney, recent polling in North Carolina indicated a competitive race, and the new numbers out Thursday in Virginia suggest the Romney campaign has a tough job ahead in the Commonwealth.

WIN FLORIDA, OHIO: The "2" in the strategy calls for regaining Florida and Ohio, which George W. Bush won in his 2004 re-election but that Obama flipped in his 2008 victory over Sen. John McCain. Again, the NBC/WSJ/Marist polls indicate that the Romney campaign will have to work hard to achieve this goal.

GRAB ONE MORE: The "1" in the Romney pathway to victory is to win just one more competitive state that Obama carried four years ago. They include Colorado, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.

The Michigan variable

While Romney was born in Michigan and his father served as a popular two-term governor of the state in the 1960's, a poll released Thursday indicates turning the state "red" in November is looking more difficult. According to an EPIC/MRA survey conducted for the Detroit Free Press and WXYZ-TV, 47% of likely voters in Michigan support the president, with 37% backing Romney and a high 16% unsure. Some surveys conducted prior to the two parties' political conventions indicated a closer contest in Michigan.

The auto bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler may be a factor. They were prominently showcased during all three nights of the Democratic convention, as was Romney's opposition to Washington's intervention.

President George W. Bush began the auto bailout in 2008 but the next year Obama grabbed the keys to the program, managing and funding the rescue of GM and Chrysler, and pushing them into bankruptcy. Romney, whose business past included investment in troubled companies, opposed the bailout and pushed for a privately financed and managed restructuring of the automakers in Chapter 11.

The auto bailouts may be impacting the race in Michigan, home to the domestic auto makers, and next door in Ohio, which is also a major base for the auto industry.

Then there's Colorado and New Hampshire

Two of the other "1" states appear to be much more in play, according to new surveys. An ARG poll in Colorado indicates Obama at 49% and Romney at 47% among likely voters. And according to a WMUR-TV/Granite State Poll, 45% of likely voters in New Hampshire (where Romney owns a vacation home) back the president, with 40% supporting Romney and a high 12% unsure. The president's margins in both polls are within the sampling error.

More NH voters undecided in split race

The new numbers may be a post-Democratic convention bounce for Obama which may or may not fade.

"The president appears to have a small but slightly growing lead over Romney compared to a few weeks ago. This contest is not out of reach for Romney, but the math favors the president," says CNN Chief National Correspondent John King.

Expect more state polls over the next two weeks, in advance of the first of three presidential debates, which will be held October 3 in Denver.

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