A hoarse President Barack Obama swung into a second day of a campaigning blitz in a narrowing race while a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows he has ceded his 16-point advantage among women, a surprising drop among a key group that is crucial to his winning a second term.
The poll also shows Republican challenger Mitt Romney is favored by 47 per cent of likely voters to 45 per cent for the president less than two weeks before Election Day.
Obama was scheduled to stop in his hometown of Chicago to vote, becoming the first U.S. president to vote early in person. The election is Nov. 6, but voters are increasingly choosing to cast ballots before then.
Obama's dip in support among women appeared to reflect a recent drive by Romney to show himself as a more moderate candidate after months of campaigning as a hard-right conservative.
Having gained ground with women, however, Romney's campaign now must deal with the fallout from a comment by a Romney-endorsed Senate candidate in Indiana, who said that when a woman becomes pregnant during a rape, "that's something God intended."
Richard Mourdock's comment was not what most Republicans wanted to be discussing days before an extremely close election largely focused on concerns about the weak U.S. economic recovery.
"I don't think politicians in Washington, most of whom are male, should be making health care decisions for women," Obama told a Florida crowd Thursday.
Romney ignored reporters' questions about the comments Thursday in Ohio. His campaign has said Romney disagreed with what Mourdock said but stood by his endorsement of the Senate candidate. Romney opposes abortion but, unlike Mourdock, supports exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
Romney has narrowed or eliminated Obama leads on many key issues after a commanding first debate performance on Oct. 3. His poll gains show that his economic argument has made progress with women as he has sought to soften his image. A month ago, women favoured Obama over Romney on the economy 56 per cent to 40 per cent. Now, the split has shifted to 49 per cent for Romney and 45 per cent for Obama.
The poll showed Obama still leads 55 per cent to 41 per cent among female likely voters on the question of which candidate would make the right decisions on women's issues.
Despite the good news for Republicans, polls in a number of battleground states that will decide the election still appear to favour Obama. The presidential election is not decided by nationwide popular vote but in state-by-state contests.
Obama has been working to build his support among men, who tend to be more Republican than women. A month ago, Romney's advantage among men was 13 percentage points. Now it's down to 5 points, with most of the shift toward Obama coming among unmarried men.
Overall, people are significantly more optimistic about the economy and unemployment in the coming year than they have been at any point in AP-GfK polling going back to March 2011, when the poll first started asking those questions.
Nearly six in 10 likely voters think the economy will improve in the next year, up from 46 per cent last month. And 42 per cent think the number of unemployed Americans will drop in the next year, up from 32 per cent in September.
Obama was campaigning in Florida, Virginia, and Ohio on Thursday before heading back to the White House.
He and former President Bill Clinton will campaign together Monday for the first time, opening the final full week before Election Day with a three-state battleground blitz in Ohio, Florida and Virginia, three of the most important yet-undecided states. Romney has whittled away the president's earlier leads in Florida and Virginia.
Romney was kicking off a daylong swing through three Ohio towns, sharpening his focus on a state that is critical to his hopes of winning the White House. Public polling has shown Obama with a slim lead.
The Associated Press-GfK poll was conducted Oct. 19-23 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,186 adults across the United States, including 839 likely voters. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; for likely voters it is 4.2 points.
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