WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama has a growing lead in two battleground states that could determine the outcome of the November election, according to a new survey of voters in Florida and Ohio. The polling trend puts additional pressure on Republican challenger Mitt Romney to perform strongly during next month's presidential debates.
A new Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters has President Obama leading former governor Mitt Romney by nine points in Florida, 53-to-44 percent, and 10 points in Ohio, 53-to-43 percent. A month ago, Quinnipiac had the president leading by just three points in Florida and six points in Ohio.
"For the first time since the campaign began, voters now see Barack Obama as better able to handle the economy than Mitt Romney," said Quinnipiac Polling director Peter Brown.
Other recent polls also show the president leading in Florida and Ohio, but by smaller margins.
Brown notes the Quinnipiac survey was conducted in the wake of a video surfacing of Romney telling campaign contributors 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income taxes and prefer government dependency over personal responsibility.
"This poll was taken last week when there was a media fury going on about Romney's comments about 47 percent of the electorate," Brown added. "It would be naïve not to think that had some impact on this."
If Mitt Romney is worried about the polling trend, he gave no indication of it at a campaign event Wednesday in Ohio.
"I do not believe we can afford four more years like the last four years," Romney said. "And I believe that after the debates and after the campaigns and all the ads are over, the people of Ohio are going to say loud and clear on November 6 [that] we cannot afford four more years, we must do better."
Later in the day, President Obama also campaigned in the state, where he promised to build on recent gains in American manufacturing.
"We can create one million new manufacturing jobs in the next four years with the right policies," Obama said. "That is what I am fighting for, that is why I am running for a second term as president. That is what is going to be important to Ohio."
Pollster Peter Brown stresses that polling data in September provide no guarantees of November election results.
"Certainly this can change," Brown explained. "You have got more than 30 days left and three high-profile debates. So it would be foolish to write this campaign off."
Even so, Brown says the polling numbers are an ominous sign for Romney, who is widely assumed to need to win most battleground states in order to be victorious on Election Day. Mathematically, he says, the president's path to a second term in office is looking considerably easier.
"If he [Obama] could win one or two of these big swing states, Florida or Ohio for instance, there is just not any rational way to see how Romney wins [the election]," Bronwn noted. "That is why today's numbers are so good for the president. He is up nine in Florida, 10 in Ohio. If he wins both of those states, he is virtually assured of re-election."
President Obama faces Governor Romney on October 3, in the first of three nationally-televised presidential debates. The events may be the last best chances for Romney to swing public opinion in battleground states and beyond.