Obama's Pa. lead shrinks as voters fret over economy

FILE - In this July 11, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)
FILE - In this July 11, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)
Photo by AP
| Friday, July 27, 2012, 11:06 p.m.

President Obama's support among likely Pennsylvania voters slipped to a narrow lead over Republican challenger Mitt Romney as concern over the economy intensified, according to a Susquehanna Polling & Research survey released on Friday.

The poll, conducted for the Republican State Committee, shows Obama leading Romney 46 percent to 43 percent, with a 3.46 percentage point margin of error.

Obama's lead is half what the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling found in a survey released on Wednesday.

“You're looking at the potential for a pretty close race,” said Jim Lee, president of the Susquehanna polling firm.

The poll of 800 likely voters took place July 19-23. A Susquehanna Poll from June showed Obama leading 48 percent to 43 percent.

As has been the case throughout this campaign, the economy remains atop voters' list of concerns, with 53 percent saying job creation, economic issues or improving the economy will most influence how they vote. Taxes, spending and budget deficits come in second with 26 percent listing those as their top concerns. No other issue breaks single digits.

The campaigns and state parties did not respond to requests for comment.

Government data released this month pointed to a slowing recovery, with a weaker-than-expected jobs report showing 80,000 jobs were created in June. On Friday, the Department of Commerce said the economy expanded by 1.5 percent in the year's second quarter, down from 2 percent in the first quarter.

Forty-five percent of voters said Obama deserves to be re-elected, compared with 49 percent who said it's time to give a new person a chance. Five percent said they're undecided.

“How would you make the case that undecided voters are going to break for an incumbent president in this economy?” Lee said.

The answer could be the Obama campaign's effort to define Romney with ads highlighting the jobs lost by companies in which Romney's former private equity firm, Bain Capital, invested. Lee credits the ads with “defining Mitt Romney before (he) had a chance to do it himself.”

Nearly 80 percent of voters in the poll said they had seen campaign ads from the candidates. Just 39 percent view Romney favorably, compared with 41 percent who have an unfavorable view of him. Voters are almost evenly split on their opinions of Obama, 46 percent favorable and 45 percent unfavorable.

“Mitt Romney can't win the state with the kind of image he has right now,” Lee said.

Obama won Pennsylvania by 10 percentage points over Sen. John McCain of Arizona in 2008.

A Republican presidential candidate has not won the state since 1988. Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 1 million voters.

The poll found 50 percent of people think the country is on the wrong track, compared with 29 percent who think it is headed in the right direction. Eleven percent are undecided.

Lee said he thought McCain's campaign made a mistake in spending time and resources to try to win Pennsylvania in 2008, because polls then showed Obama was heavily favored.

“I don't know how the Romney folks can't look at this and say, ‘We have a shot here,'” he said.

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7900 or mwereschagin@tribweb.com.

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