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Political Notebook

Obama, Romney run close in battleground states

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Representative Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney were all smiles at a campaign stop in Portsmouth, Va., on Thursday.

President Obama and Mitt Romney are in a dead heat in the battleground states of Florida and Ohio, and the president holds a slim lead in Pennsylvania, according to a poll released Thursday.

The Quinnipiac University survey gave Obama a 47-39 edge in the Keystone State. Obama leads Romney, 44-42, in Ohio but trails, 44-43, in Florida with both results falling within the poll’s margin of error.

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Since 1960, no presidential candidate has been elected without carrying at least two of these three states, the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute noted.

Acknowledging these states’ importance, Romney has devoted $7.4 million - more than half of his nationwide total - to advertising in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, according to data collected by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. Obama has directed $1.4 million, about a third of his total ad spending, toward Florida and Ohio but has spent nothing in Pennsylvania.

The poll indicates Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, is gaining on Obama in Ohio and Florida, where he was down by six and seven points, respectively, in a March 28 survey.

“Romney’s ability to cut into the president’s leads in Ohio and Florida reflects two changes in the political environment,’’ said Peter A. Brown, the polling institute’s assistant director. “First, since he is now the de facto nominee, Romney is no longer being attacked by his fellow Republicans, who are closing ranks behind him. Second, voter optimism about the economy has leveled off, reflecting economic statistics over the past month and the public reaction to them.’’

The poll revealed 67 to 70 percent of voters in the three swing states believe the US economy remains in a recession, even though economists say the recession ended in mid-2010. Most survey respondents said they think Romney would handle the economy better than Obama.

In Pennsylvania, half of voters polled said they approve of Obama’s job performance, but the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent in Florida and Ohio.

A separate poll by the Washington Post shows Obama leading in Virginia, 51 percent to 44 percent among registered voters. And Romney does no better against Obama than he did a year ago, despite his emergence as the GOP standard-bearer.

Obama was the first Democrat to capture Virginia in four decades, and this week’s schedule indicates his desire to repeat that performance. Obama will be in Arlington on Friday to hold a round-table and deliver remarks on student-loan debt. He will return to the commonwealth a day later in the guise of a candidate, holding a rally in Richmond meant to mark the official start of his reelection campaign. Romney campaigned earlier this week in Northern Virginia.

GLOBE STAFF AND WIRES

Bachmann latest primary rival to endorse Romney

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota on Thursday became the latest former rival to endorse presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

Four months after ending her own bid for the White House, Bachmann joined Romney at an afternoon campaign event in Portsmouth, Va., where she called him “a man who will preserve the American dream of prosperity and liberty.’’

“I think for all of America, this is a very simple proposition this November: President Barack Obama or President Mitt Romney?’’ Bachmann said. “Very easy.’’

Bachmann, popular among the Republican Party’s most conservative members, briefly led the GOP’s crowded presidential field last summer. She dropped out of the race after fading and finishing sixth in the Iowa caucuses in January.

Like Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rudy Giuliani - all one-time Romney foes - Bachmann brings with her endorsement a history of disparaging remarks about the former Massachusetts governor. In December, Bachmann declared Romney could not defeat Obama in a general election.

“No, he cannot beat Obama because his policy is the basis for Obamacare,’’ Bachmann told ABC News. “The signature issue of Obama is Obamacare. You can’t have a candidate who has given the blueprint for Obamacare. It’s too identical. It’s not going to happen.’’

The Obama campaign has used statements like Bachmann’s to throw water on Romney endorsements. On Wednesday, the day Gingrich officially bowed out, the Obama campaign released a video highlighting the former House speaker’s criticisms of Romney.

But Obama in 2008 welcomed the backing of intraparty adversaries - most notably Hillary Clinton, who became his secretary of state. Clinton and her husband, President Bill Clinton, consistently questioned Obama’s foreign policy experience during the Democratic primary that year.

CALLUM BORCHERS

Romney hits Obama over handling of China dissident

Mitt Romney on Thursday blasted the Obama administration for its handling of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who said he felt coerced into leaving the safety of the US Embassy in Beijing.

Chen is a blind human rights activist who escaped house arrest then sought refuge for six days at the American Embassy. When Chen left the embassy on Wednesday and entered a hospital for treatment of a broken foot, US officials said the choice to leave was his and that he wanted to remain in China.

But in interviews from the hospital, Chen said he felt forced out of the embassy, wished to “leave for the US on Hillary Clinton’s plane,’’ and feared for his family’s safety.

Romney, speaking at a campaign stop in Portsmouth, Va., said the Obama administration “probably sped up, or may have sped up, the process of his decision to leave the embassy because they wanted to move on to a series of discussions that Mr. Geithner and our secretary of state are planning on having with China.’’

“If these reports are true,’’ Romney said, “this is a dark day for freedom and it’s a day of shame for the Obama administration.’’

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton were in China to discuss currency and trade policies and the nuclear threats posed by Iran and North Korea.

Romney accused the administration of putting those talks ahead of Chen’s protection.

US Ambassador to China Gary Locke insisted that Chen “was never pressured to leave’’ the embassy and said Chen was asked if he wanted asylum and declined. “He was excited and eager when he made his decision to announce it,’’ Locke said.

CALLUM BORCHERS

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