Little distance separates President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney in a potential 2012 matchup in three large states, a new poll finds, with Obama leading by 3 percentage points in Ohio, trailing by the same margin in Florida and barely ahead in Pennsylvania.
The “swing state poll” conducted for Quinnipiac University also offers no assurance that Romney will be the Republican presidential nominee.
Conducted as sexual harassment charges swirled around rival Herman Cain, the survey shows the former businessman leading Romney in the Republican race in Ohio and Florida and tied with him in Pennsylvania.
Obama leads Cain and two other Republican contenders -- Texas Governor Rick Perry and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia -- in all three states, in most cases by wide margins.
Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania combine for 67 of the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected president. Obama carried all of them in 2008.
Florida -- with 29 electoral votes -- is shaping up as “the toughest of the ‘big three’ for Obama to carry” in a contest against Romney, said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Hamden, Connecticut-based polling institute.
Brown added that if Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio emerges as the party’s vice presidential nominee, as has been speculated, “that would make the Sunshine State even a tougher sale for the president.”
Romney leads the president 45 percent to 42 percent in Florida, according to the survey. The figures are exactly reversed in Ohio in Obama’s favor, and in Pennsylvania the president is ahead of Romney 44 percent to 43 percent, the poll finds.
The poll of registered voters was taken Oct. 31-Nov. 7, and has error margins of plus-or-minus 2.9 percentage points in Florida, 2.7 points in Ohio and 2.6 points in Pennsylvania.
The harassment allegations against Cain surfaced Oct. 30 and have dogged him since then. He called a news conference yesterday in Arizona a day after one of four women to have made allegations detailed her claims of inappropriate sexual behavior by him in 1997.
Cain has denied all of the accusations; he said yesterday “I have never acted inappropriately with anyone, period.”
The poll results show that the charges “haven’t derailed his candidacy so far, and he remains strong among Republicans,” Brown said.
Still, Brown cautioned that “while the immediate effect hasn’t been catastrophic, it’s unclear whether the story will have legs that will make a larger dent in the ‘Cain Train’ as we get closer to the actual primaries.”
Among Republican voters in Florida, Cain leads the primary field with 27 percent, followed by Romney at 21 percent, Gingrich at 17 percent and Perry at 5 percent, according to the poll.
In Ohio, the results are Cain 25 percent, Romney 20 percent, Gingrich 11 percent and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas 9 percent. Perry and Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota each have 4 percent.
In the Republican race in Pennsylvania, Cain and Romney are tied at 17 percent. Gingrich and Rick Santorum, the state’s former U.S. senator, follow with 13 percent, and Perry and Paul each have 5 percent.
Among all voters in the three states, the poll finds that Romney “is considered more honest and trustworthy and makes a more favorable impression, while Cain is viewed more unfavorably,” according to a statement by the Quinnipiac pollsters.
Florida, violating Republican Party rules, has set its primary for Jan. 31. Pennsylvania Republicans are scheduled to vote on April 24 and Ohio Republicans on June 12.
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