October 11, 2012 at 1:00 am

Poll: Obama lead in Michigan narrowing, poll finds

Romney makes headway after strong debate performance

The presidential race has tightened in Michigan following Mitt Romney's debate perform-ance last week — deemed a victory for the GOP nominee and a bust for President Barack Obama by two-thirds of voters polled here.

Obama had a 14.2 point lead in Michigan last month following a bump from the Democratic National Convention; but that edge has shrunk to 6.7 points after an uninspired first presidential debate Oct. 3 in Denver, according to a new Detroit News/

WDIV Local 4 poll.

Obama now leads Romney in Michigan 49 percent to 42.3 percent, with 7.7 percent of voters undecided.

This month's advantage for Obama aligns with earlier results from May through August where the president's lead was 5.5 percentage points.

"All the gains through September were wiped away in one night of the debate," said Richard Czuba of Glengariff Group Inc., which conducted the poll Saturday through Monday.

The 20-point lead Obama held among women after the conventions has also shrunk to a nine-point advantage over Romney, which is more in line with preconvention levels, the pollster said.

A segment of independent women and northern Michigan voters account for the volatility that swung toward Obama last month, but back toward Romney after the debate, Czuba said.

More than three-fourths of Michigan's likely voters polled said they watched all or part of the debate with 66 percent saying Romney won.

Romney's strong performance also built enthusiasm among the Republican electorate at a critical time when some are casting absentee ballots.

Debra Hobbs, 48, of Macomb Township said she had planned before the debate to vote for Romney, but the first of three match-ups confirmed her choice.

"After the debate, I felt this is the man I really truly want for president," said Hobbs, a stay-at-home mom, whose family had to stop eating out and putting money into their 401(k) because the costs for groceries, gasoline and electricity have increased.

Romney, she said, acted presidential in his answers on the economy and taxes, whereas Obama seemed uninterested.

For the first time, the base of Republican voters are a bit more excited about casting their ballots than the Democratic base, the poll found.

Seniors citizens also are more fired up to vote than last month, whereas young people — a key voting bloc for the president four years ago — are less enthused.

Obama's firewall continues to be African-American voters who are the most excited to vote and overwhelming backers of the president, the poll found.

"If that starts to dim, Barack Obama is going to have serious troubles in Michigan," Czuba said.

Vice president a factor

As the focus shifts tonight to the vice presidential debate, just 36 percent of likely voters said the only matchup between Republican Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden will be a factor in their vote.

Myron Watkins of Southfield said he hopes Obama is more aggressive Tuesday in the next debate in New York and catches Romney off guard.

Watkins said he's a little worried about Obama's chances, but he said he will cast his vote for Obama because he said he believes the president has the best interests of the middle class and Detroit at heart.

"I'm going to be an Obama supporter because I'm not in the 2 percent tax bracket and I don't think I'm going to be there for a while," the 25-year-old artist said.

The Detroit News/WDIV Local 4 poll reveals a wider margin for Obama in Michigan than other polls this week. A recent EPIC-MRA poll for the Detroit Free Press showed Obama up 3 points — 48 percent to 45 percent.

Czuba said his live telephone survey of 600 likely voters occurred after all the events of last week — the debate, post-debate coverage and Friday's release of rosier jobs figures that showed unemployment dropping below 8 percent for the first time since the start of Obama's term.

Also, 20 percent of respondents were reached on their cellphones — an important segment of the voting population. Incorporating cellphones gives Obama a 2.6 percentage point lift on average.

"If you don't incorporate that, you are essentially writing off about 30 percent of the electorate," Czuba said of cellphone users.

Polling has come under increased scrutiny recently with conservative critics believing Obama's numbers are a result of an oversampling of Democrats.

Czuba said his polling is not weighted by party affiliation. Identifying factors like age, race, gender and geography are constant, whereas party affiliation changes. "That's what we are polling to find out," he said.

In The News / WDIV poll, 43.3 percent of respondents identified themselves as Democratic or leaning Democrat; 37.2 said they are Republican or lean Republican, and 18.5 percent said they are independent.

Clear choice touted

Romney's campaign said the debate showed the former Massachusetts governor's leadership on the economy and Obama's lack of vision for a second term.

"Michiganders saw a clear choice in Denver last week and the drastic change in polling numbers proves that they don't want the next four years to look like the last four," Kelsey Knight, a Michigan spokeswoman, said in a statement.

Democratic officials said they've anticipated the race to be close. The new results reflect how Romney supporters have come on board after a bad month of campaigning — highlighted by comments taped at a private fundraiser where Romney said he's not worried about the "47 percent" of Americans who see themselves as victims dependent on the government.

Romney has since said he was talking campaign strategy on wooing voters in the middle and that he cares about 100 percent of the country.

An Obama Michigan official offered a counterpoint. "Our campaign's commitment to our game plan has been consistent throughout," spokesman Matt McGrath said in statement.

"We're proud of what we've accomplished so far, and over the next four weeks we will continue to present the very clear choice in this election."

The poll shows Medicare could be the Achilles heel for Republicans if Democrats can effectively deliver the message they want to preserve the health care system for seniors, whereas Republicans back a Ryan-drafted plan that would transition future seniors to a voucher-like system to buy insurance.

Nearly three out of four respondents said the Medicare system needs to be reformed, but by a margin of 45 percent to 22 percent, voters said they prefer the current system than a fixed amount of money. The support for the Medicate system is particular strong among seniors.

No Michigan ads

Neither Romney nor Obama is advertising in Michigan. Instead they've pumped money into swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia. But Romney officials cited visits this week from Ryan and the candidate's wife, Ann, on Friday as evidence the campaign is not giving up on Michigan, which hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since George H.W. Bush.

Hobbs, the Romney supporter, said she hopes her candidate will invest in his native state. There's concern among Republicans that Romney may pull out. Just one commercial could reassure Michigan voters that "I have not left you," she said.

But Bob Wheelright, 49, of Kalamazoo said he believes Romney would be "foolish" to spend here when ad dollars should go to tighter states to ensure victory.

But Wheelright, who is self-employed, said Obama should be held accountable for wanting the job, promising change but not making the economy better.

"If he were the head coach of the Detroit Lions and he had this track record over the last four years, we'd ask for him to be fired," he said.

mschultz@detnews.com

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