Romney, buoyed by new polls that show him pulling ahead of the president, has shed the languid pace that characterized his travels as recently as last weekend. He appears renewed, even ebullient, and so do his crowds. About 500 people endured a driving rainstorm and a muddy field to see him Monday evening in Newport News, Va., and an estimated 12,000 packed a parking lot here for a Romney rally Tuesday night.
Obama, speaking to a sprawling rally at sunset on the Ohio State campus Tuesday, made it clear that he understands the stakes. He urged everyone who had not registered to vote to do so on his campaign Web site by Tuesday’s 9 p.m. deadline.
“I know it’s easy to procrastinate in college,” he said. But now, he added, “no explanations, no excuses. . . . Everything we fought for in 2008 is on the line in 2012.’’
The battle has taken on new urgency after Romney’s widely praised performance in the first presidential debate last week — combined with Obama’s lackluster showing — eroded Obama’s lead here and in some national polls.
One survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center showed Romney ahead by four percentage points among likely voters nationwide, a 12-point swing from Pew’s mid-September survey. That was followed Tuesday by Gallup’s first survey of likely voters, which showed Romney leading Obama by 49 to 47 percent, although the president retained an edge among registered voters.
But the race comes down to a few crucial battleground states, none more important than Ohio. And Romney has struggled here. One measure taken after the debate, a CNN/ORC International Poll released Tuesday, showed Romney down by four points in Ohio, though the race has tightened here, as well.
No Republican in the modern era has been elected president without winning the state, and for the moment, the former Massachusetts governor faces significant challenges in trying to win Ohio’s 18 electoral votes. Unemployment stands at 7.2 percent, lower than the national average of 7.8 percent.
Republicans argue that Gov. John Kasich (R) is more responsible than Obama for the rosy picture, and the debate over who should take credit for better times has muddied Romney’s message that new leadership is needed to fix a bad economy.
“There’s a battle over the narrative on the economy here,” said Greg R. Lawson, a policy analyst at the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank based in Columbus. “If you think it’s the president or if you think it has much more to do with the Kasich administration. . . . The economy and that narrative will be decisive.”
The Obama administration, taking nothing for granted in a state it desperately wants to win, has been showering Ohio with attention and money throughout the president’s term. Excluding the District’s neighboring states, Virginia and Maryland, Obama has visited Ohio more than any state except New York, where he often travels to raise money.