Polls: Obama Stakes Strong Lead In Iowa, Narrower Ones In Other Battlegrounds

Tom Kludt

Less than a week before Election Day, President Obama holds a solid lead in Iowa while the race in New Hampshire and Wisconsin looks tighter, a poll released Thursday shows.

The latest slate of swing state polls from NBC News, Marist College and the Wall Street Journal shows Obama earning the support of 50 percent of likely Iowa voters. Republican nominee Mitt Romney trails with 44 percent.

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That's fairly consistent with the previous two NBC/Marist/WSJ surveys there, conducted in October and September, which showed Obama earning at least 50 percent support and leading Romney by 8 points in each. Iowa, of course, figured prominently in Obama's 2008 presidential bid. After helping him secure a win in the state's first-in-the-nation caucuses in January of that year, Iowans gave Obama a 10-point win there over Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) in the general election.

Four years later, the president appears to face a more daunting challenge. Several polls out of Iowa have shown Obama in a dead heat with Romney, who landed a coveted endorsement on Saturday from the state's premier newspaper, The Des Moines Register. But the Obama campaign is betting that its robust ground game will pay off, and Thursday's poll indicates that it might be paying dividends already. Forty-five percent of Iowa voters surveyed said they have already cast a ballot or intend to do so before Election Day. Obama leads among those voters 62 percent to 35 percent.

The PollTracker Average shows Obama opening up a lead in Iowa and closing in on the 50 percent mark.

In contrast to Wednesday's poll from Marquette University Law School, the NBC/Marist/WSJ survey shows a competitive race shaping up in Wisconsin. The president leads narrowly among likely Badger State voters 49 percent to 46 percent, a dip since the previous NBC/Marist/WSJ poll in October that showed him above 50 percent and leading Romney by 6 points. Meanwhile, the latest Marquette poll had Obama up by 8.

Obama has held a steady lead in Wisconsin, according to the PollTracker Average, which currently shows him up by 4 there.

In New Hampshire, Obama led Romney by 8 points in the September NBC/Marist/WSJ poll, but today the president's edge in the Granite State is down to 2 points. New Hampshire represents advantageous turf for Romney, who owns a home there and served as governor of neighboring Massachusetts, and his relatively solid personal popularity there reflects that familiarity.

Nearly half of likely New Hampshire voters, 49 percent, have a favorable view of Romney while 46 percent have an unfavorable view. That's virtually identical to Obama's own favorability rating there, and much stronger showing for Romney than in the other two states surveyed. Romney is viewed favorably by only 43 percent of Iowa voters and unfavorably by 49 percent. In Wisconsin, voters are split on the Republican nominee: 47 percent have a favorable opinion of him, while 47 percent view him unfavorably. Obama, conversely, is viewed favorably by at least 50 percent of voters in all three states.

And while voters in Iowa and Wisconsin are evenly divided on which candidate would do a better job handling the economy, New Hampshire voters gave Romney a slight 3-point edge on the question. A majority of voters in all three states said Obama would do a better job overseeing foreign policy.

The PollTracker Average currently shows Obama with a little more than a 3-point lead in New Hampshire.

The NBC/Marist/WSJ polls were conducted Oct. 28-30 using live phone interviews with 1,142 likely voters in Iowa (which has a margin of error of plus-minus 2.9 percentage points), 1,013 likely voters in New Hampshire (plus-minus 3.1 percentage points) and 1,065 likely voters in Wisconsin (plus-minus 3.0 percentage points).