By Justin Sink
Mitt Romney has made crucial progress in the two largest battleground states and is now locked into a virtual tie with President Obama, according to a poll from Quinnipiac University released Thursday.
The president holds a 2-point lead in Ohio, 44 percent to 42, down 4 points from March and well within the poll's margin of error. In Florida, Obama has seen an 8-point swing from the end of March, and now trails Romney 44 percent to 43 percent.
Still, the polls should provide some relief for the Romney campaign, which saw its candidate emerge from a bruising Republican primary significantly trailing the president in key swing states. But without having to play defense against both the president and his Republican rivals, Romney has edged into a virtual deadlock.
"Romney's ability to cut into the president's leads in Ohio and Florida reflects two changes in the political environment: First, since he is now the de facto nominee, Romney is no longer being attacked by his fellow Republicans, who are closing ranks behind him. Second, voter optimism about the economy has leveled off, reflecting economic statistics over the past month and the public reaction to them," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement.
As seen in other polls, Romney's key vulnerability continues to be women voters. The president leads Romney by double digits among women in both Pennsylvania and Ohio.
"A very small gender gap in Florida grows significantly in Ohio and Pennsylvania as women flock to Obama. Romney offsets Obama's edge in Ohio with a big lead among men, something he doesn't achieve in Pennsylvania. What appears to be keeping Romney in the ball game, at least in Florida and Ohio, is the perception he can better fix the economy," Brown said.
Also of note in the poll: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) polled better in his home state than Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) did in his. Rubio was the vice presidential pick of 40 percent of those surveyed in Florida, while Portman was favored by 26 percent of Ohio voters. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie also received strong support across all three states.
"Christie and Rubio do best outside their own neighborhoods, but there is far from any kind of consensus about who would be Romney's best choice," Brown said.