Poll: Obama leads in three swing states, but Romney closing gap

President Obama holds leads in Ohio, Florida and Virginia — three states challenger Mitt Romney will likely need to sweep for Republicans to regain control of the White House — but the president's leads in each of those battlegrounds has narrowed, according to a new set of polls from NBC News/Marist.

Obama leads Romney 48 percent to 44 percent in both Florida and Virginia, according to the poll — encouraging signs for the Obama team as both states traditionally lean conservative. In Ohio, the president posts a 6-point lead, besting Romney 48-42 percent among registered voters. 

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Still, there's reason for optimism in the Romney camp. In March, the same poll found Obama with leads of 12 points in Ohio and 17 points in Virginia. A January survey of Florida found the president with an 8-point lead in the Sunshine State.

That Romney has been able to substantially improve on those early head-to-head match-ups indicates the presumptive Republican nominee has rebounded nicely from a bruising primary process and consolidated his conservative base. Furthermore, the president's inability to top 50 percent of voters in any of those states shows lingering vulnerability.

Nevertheless, Romney is facing a tough headwind and has little margin for error. Under most electoral models, the former Massachusetts governor will need to sweep all three of the states to eke out a victory in November. 

The president is benefiting from economic optimism in those three states — a majority of registered voters in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia said the worst of the recession was behind the nation, and that the president had inherited the current economic conditions from his Republican predecessor. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed in Florida and 57 percent in Ohio and Virginia said Obama’s economic challenges were a legacy of the George W. Bush administration.

Obama continues to exploit a gender gap, posting double-digit leads among women in each of the three states, up 10 points in Florida and Virginia and 12 points in Ohio.

The president has also negotiated the question of who would do a better job with the economy — a perceived strength for Romney — to a draw in each of the three battlegrounds.

Also troubling for Republicans is that the poll shows little evidence that adding native sons to the ticket could boost chances in November. The addition of Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to the ticket did nothing to move the polls in Florida, while adding former Gov. Jeb Bush (R) only marginally improved Romney's chances in the Sunshine State. 

The president continues to edge Romney in a hypothetical Ohio match-up where Romney has added Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) to the ticket, and similarly leads in a Virginia showdown where Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is Romney's No. 2.

Nevertheless, lingering economic unrest could provide a path to victory for Republicans. Just under six in 10 respondents across the three swing states say the country remains on the wrong track. 

The polls were conducted from May 17 to 20 and has a 3 percent margin of error.