President Obama has a strong lead over Mitt Romney in New Hampshire and narrow advantages in Nevada and North Carolina, according to a new series of NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist College polls, putting him ahead in virtually every swing state with fewer than 40 days before the election.
The president leads 51 to 44 among likely voters in New Hampshire, a state he won in 2008 but one Romney advisers view as winnable for their candidate. Obama has a 49 to 47 advantage in Nevada and a 48 to 46 lead in North Carolina, both well within the margin of error of the surveys. (Go to NBC’s First Read for even more details on the polls.)
These results suggest that Obama could win a 2008-style landslide if he maintains his current standing. Of the states Obama carried in 2008, only Indiana seems completely out his reach. In nearly every survey the last few weeks, the president leads in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia, and Wisconsin, some combination of which Romney must carry to be elected. Obama has long been considered an underdog in North Carolina, where he won by less than one percent in 2008, but the new poll suggests he could repeat his win there as well.
In 2008, Obama won the electoral college vote 365 to 173, the largest margin since Bill Clinton’s 379 to 159 win over Bob Dole in 1996. But that win seemed an unusual confluence of factors: strong disapproval of George W. Bush and the broader Republican Party, a lackluster campaign by John McCain and Sarah Palin, strong enthusiasm among Democrats, a huge Democratic fundraising advantage and an increase in black and youth voters that seemed particularly inspired by Obama.
For most of this election cycle, it seemed Obama v. Romney would be a repeat of the 2000 and 2004 elections, both of which were nearly ties. And Romney and his Republican allies are raising money at the same rate as Democrats, making this campaign in that way distinct from 2008.
But right now, much of the political climate of 2008 remains. The Democratic Party is viewed more favorably by voters than the GOP, the Democratic candidate is better-liked than the Republican among the broader electorate, and minority and young voters seem likely to strongly back Obama again.
The polls of the last few weeks show a combination that could make it hard for Romney to do much better than McCain: Obama has huge leads among women and voters between the ages of 18-29, Romney only narrow advantages among men and voters over 65, and more than 80 percent of minority voters favor of the president.
North Carolina provides a great illustration of Obama’s strength. The president has maintained his standing there even as the state’s jobless rate has remained very high (9.7 percent) and the new poll showed 55 percent of the North Carolina voters say the country is on the wrong track.
How could Romney shift this dynamic? The presidential debates over the next month provide him a critical opportunity to persuade the small fraction (5-7 percent in most polls) of Americans who are undecided, and the larger universe of voters (about 20 percent) who say they could change their minds. And it’s not clear young or Hispanic voters will turn for Obama as much as in 2008, as some polls have shown them expressing less enthusiasm about the election than blacks or voters over age 65.
But as an Obama adviser put it this week, “we’d rather be us than them.”
Follow Perry Bacon Jr. on Twitter at @Perrybaconjr.