– William Douglas, Washington Bureau
NORTH CAROLINA (15 electoral votes)
North Carolina is a battleground state even without the major presidential candidates. Obama has not been back since the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte in September, and Romney has made only one post-convention stop – mainly for a photo op with the Rev. Billy Graham at his mountain home in Montreat.
But the Romney campaigned failed to accomplish its goal of taking North Carolina out of play. Numerous polls show that while he has a slight lead, the race here is within the margin of error.
Even without the candidates, North Carolina is politically contested territory – with some $70 million in TV advertising, robo-calls from Romney and running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, and a ground war that attracted hundreds of volunteers from surrounding Southern states.
Already, 1.4 million people have cast their ballots since early voting began Oct. 18, with voting among African-Americans up 23 percent over 2008.
The state, which Obama won by a slim 14,000-vote margin in 2008, has always been regarded as the most difficult of the battleground states for the president, given its red state heritage and its 9.6 percent unemployment rate. But on the ground in North Carolina, this does not look like a settled matter.
– Rob Christensen, The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer
MICHIGAN (16 electoral votes)
Both candidates have advantages here. Romney’s family has deep roots in the state, where his father was governor from 1963 to 1969 and his brother is still active in state affairs. Romney has also won the state’s Republican presidential primary twice.
Obama was thought to have the more important edge. He boasts that he pushed the auto bailout that sparked the domestic industry’s comeback and boosted the state’s ailing economy, while Romney advocated bankruptcy for the ailing car companies. Michigan’s unemployment rate, 9.3 percent in September, was well above the national average, though far from the 14.2 percent peak of August 2009.
"We’re doing better, but the state is still in pretty bad shape," said Bill Ballenger, editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nonpartisan newsletter.
He said that voters are taking a serious look at Romney since his performance at the first debate. What could make a difference is a serious last-minute push by the Romney forces. A poll last week by Foster McCollum White Baydoun, Michigan-based pollsters, showed the race to be a virtual tie.
– David Lightman, Washington Bureau
OHIO (18 electoral votes)
Perhaps more than any other swing state, Ohio means everything for Romney and Obama. For Romney, it’s a must-have, and for Obama, capturing the state would make it nearly impossible for his rival to devise a winning path.
Obama once had a comfortable lead, until his poor performance in the first presidential debate. A Quinnipiac poll on Wednesday still had him up by 5 percentage points, and polls suggest women may hold the key to victory. While Romney has significantly narrowed the gender gap nationwide, a recent poll conducted for Ohio newspapers found that Obama holds an 11 percentage point lead over Romney among Ohio women. The state’s men prefer Romney over the president by a 12 percentage point margin.
Ohio’s unemployment rate has been lower than the national average, but that hasn’t stopped the economy from being the top issue. Obama has been trumpeting his backing of the federal auto bailout for saving jobs in the state, where one in eight Ohio jobs is linked to the auto industry.