DES MOINES, Iowa — Five weeks to Election Day, President Barack Obama is within reach of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term. Republican Mitt Romney's path to victory is narrowing.
To overtake Obama, Romney would need to quickly gain the upper hand in nearly all of the nine states where he and Obama are competing the hardest.
Polls show the president with a steady lead in many of them as Romney looks to shift the dynamics of the race, starting with their first debate Wednesday in Denver.
"We'd rather be us than them," says Jennifer Psaki, an Obama spokeswoman.
But Romney's running mate Paul Ryan says there's time for the GOP ticket to win. "In these kinds of races people focus near the end, and that's what's happening now," he told "Fox News Sunday."
If the election were held today, an Associated Press analysis shows Obama would win at least 271 electoral votes, with likely victories in crucial Ohio and Iowa along with 19 other states and the District of Columbia. Romney would win 23 states for a total of 206.
To oust the Democratic incumbent, Romney would need to take up-for-grabs Florida, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Virginia, which would put him at 267 votes, and upend Obama in either Ohio or Iowa.
The AP analysis isn't meant to be predictive. Rather, it is intended to provide a snapshot of a race that until recently has been stubbornly close in the small number of the most contested states.
It is based on a review of public and private polls, television advertising and numerous interviews with campaign and party officials as well as Republican and Democratic strategists in the competitive states and in Washington.
In the final weeks before the Nov. 6 vote, Obama is enjoying a burst of momentum and has benefited from growing optimism about the economy as well as a series of Romney stumbles. Most notably, a secret video surfaced recently showing the Republican nominee telling a group of donors that 47 percent of Americans consider themselves victims dependent on the government.
To be sure, much could change in the coming weeks, which will feature three presidential and one vice presidential debate. A host of unknowns, both foreign and domestic, could rock the campaign, knocking Obama off course and giving Romney a boost in the homestretch.
Barring that, Romney's challenge is formidable.
Obama started the campaign with a slew of electoral-rich coastal states already in his win column. From the outset, Romney faced fewer paths to cobbling together the state-by-state victories needed to reach the magic number.
It's grown even narrower in recent weeks, as Romney has seen his standing slip in polls in Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, and Iowa, with six. That forced him to abandon plans to try to challenge Obama on traditionally Democratic turf so he could redouble his efforts in Ohio and Iowa, as well as Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Nevada and Virginia.
Romney is hoping that come Election Day, on-the-fence voters tip his way. But there are hurdles there, too.
Early voting is under way in dozens of states, and national and key states surveys show undecided voters feel more favorably toward Obama than Romney.
The Republican is in a tight battle with Obama in Florida, as well as Colorado, North Carolina and Nevada.
But Ohio's shifting landscape illustrates Romney's troubles over the past few weeks.
Republicans and Democrats agree that Obama's solid lead in public and private polling in the state is for real. Over the past month, the president has benefited from an improving economic situation in the state; its 7.2 percent unemployment rate is below the 8.1 percent national average. Obama's team also attributes his Ohio edge to the auto bailout and GM plant expansions in eastern Ohio.
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