Barack Obama's hopes of reviving his flagging re-election campaign received a boost yesterday (Sunday) after a series of polls showed the president leading in the must-win battleground state of Ohio.
As both Mr Obama and Mitt Romney, his Republican opponent, prepared for crunch debates in New York and Florida this week, a Public Policy Polling survey gave Obama a five-point lead in Ohio, backing up polls last week from CNN and NBC showing a similar lead.
Romney has surged in the polls in recent weeks, but without Ohio he would need to win Florida and in all likelihood several up-for-grabs states such as Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, New Hampshire and Nevada to take the White House.
"He can probably win the presidency without Ohio, but I wouldn't want to take the risk. No Republican has," said Rob Portman, the Ohio senator who has been campaigning frantically for Romney in the state.
The Ohio polls make encouraging reading for Obama, who faces one of the sternest tests of his career tomorrow at the second presidential debate, when he will try to make up for his disastrous performance in the first contest in Denver 10 days ago.
Aides promise that Obama would be more aggressive when he meets Romney, drawing a sharp contrast between their policies on tax, business and welfare. "Obviously, the president was disappointed in his own performance," Robert Gibbs, a senior Obama campaign adviser told CNN. He said Obama would be more energetic. "You'll see somebody who's very passionate about the choice that our country faces," he said.
Romney's aides countered that the president's problem was not his debating style but his record in office, where, after four years, unemployment remains at nearly eight per cent. "The president can change his style, he can change his tactics. He can't change his record, he can't change his policies," said Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser.
Obama can also expect to face awkward questions over the White House's handling of the attacks in Benghazi last month that left the US ambassador, Chris Stevens, and three other US citizens dead. The White House blamed the violence on a demonstration that ran out of control. Testimony from State Department and security officials has contradicted that version of events and questioned the lax security at the consulate. David Axelrod, another senior Obama campaign adviser, declined to say when exactly Mr Obama received intelligence briefings on the events.
In Ohio the PPP survey found that Obama benefited from his decision to bail out the US car industry after the 2008 financial crisis. Obama reminded voters that household names such as GM and Chrysler had been "on the verge of collapse" when he took office.
Both campaigns have been committing maximum resources in Ohio, a state whose 18 electoral college votes could be decided by less than 100,000 votes.
Romney spent three out of six days last week at rallies drawing crowds of more than 10,000 people. "I've never seen this kind of enthusiasm or energy on the ground," Portman said.
Not to be outdone, Obama will also be heading to Ohio after the debate to hold rallies of his own.
With turnout critical, both sides have enlisted the help of music stars. Romney has travelled with Collin Raye, a country music star, while on Thursday Bruce Springsteen will perform in Ohio with former president Bill Clinton.