Obama and his campaign have hammered Romney on his tax policies, arguing that the former Massachusetts governor favors the rich while the president as a defender of everyone else.
The president has seen the same good fortune in Iowa. A poll released Saturday by The Des Moines Register illustrates his advantage, showing Obama with 49 percent to 45 percent for Romney. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
"It's a direct result of the time and resources he's been forced to spend here," said Iowa Republican strategist John Stineman.
Indeed, Obama intently focused on the state ahead of an early voting period that began last week. He campaigned in Iowa aggressively this summer and dumped in a ton of TV advertising, much of it depicting Romney as wealthy and out-of-touch with working Americans.
Obama doesn't just have the wind at his back in those states.
The president also appears to be in stronger shape than Romney in Virginia, which has 13 electoral votes, and in New Hampshire, with four votes, even though Romney vacations often in the state where he has a lakeside home. Romney and GOP allies are being outspent in that state considerably, a sign of trouble for the Republican challenger.
Underscoring his challenges, Romney also has been forced to spend millions of dollars a week defending himself in North Carolina, a GOP-leaning state that's more conservative than most of the states that will decide the election.
Polls now show a competitive race there. Democrats boast of having registered 250,000 new voters in the state since April 2011. It's an eye-popping total in a state that Obama won by just 14,000 votes four years ago. A flood of new voters, presumably a chunk of them Democrats, could help keep that state within Obama's reach this year.
Also, Romney's effort to challenge Obama in Democratic-leaning Wisconsin, home state of running mate Paul Ryan, appears to have fizzled. Despite millions of dollars spent on TV in the last few weeks by both sides, polls show Obama with a clear lead in Wisconsin.
Romney's goal of forcing Obama to defend Michigan — Romney's native state — and Pennsylvania never materialized.
"The big strategic moment coming out of the conventions in my view was whether or not Romney and his campaign could succeed in expanding the parameters of the battleground," said Tad Devine, a top adviser to 2000 Democratic nominee Al Gore and 2004 nominee John Kerry. "They have not been able to do that."
All this has left Romney with an extraordinarily tight path and few options but to bear down in the states where he is competing aggressively. Time, though, is running out.
Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jenifer Agiesta and AP news Survey Specialist Dennis Junius in Washington, Associated Press writers Dan Sewell in Ohio, Beth Fouhy in New York and Julie Pace in Chicago contributed to this report.
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