President Barack Obama heads into the final weekend of the campaign with a 6-percentage-point lead in Michigan over Republican rival Mitt Romney, a new Free Press/WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) poll shows.
The survey suggests that the Democratic incumbent has regained some momentum heading into Tuesday's election.
Obama had 48% support to Romney's 42%. Ten percent of likely voters were undecided or chose a third-party candidate.
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The results come as both campaigns and their supporters have increased their focus on Michigan, with Romney's backers taking out more than $3.5 million in late ads and the president's campaign set to air its first Michigan ad in months.
"I think the auto issue ... has solidified things for Obama," said Bernie Porn, president of Lansing-based EPIC-MRA, which conducted the poll. He was referring to the 2009 investment and structured bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler that was led by the Obama administration and is widely credited with helping both return to profitability.
Most polls in battleground states have given Obama slight leads, though those have tightened in recent weeks.
Michigan hasn't gone for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, and has mostly been considered safe territory for Obama.
Some other recent polls -- notably one released Wednesday by the Detroit News and WDIV-TV (Local 4) -- show a closer race. The poll done by EPIC-MRA of Lansing for the Free Press, WXYZ-TV and three outstate TV stations shows Obama has increased Michigan support after it dropped following his weak performance in the first presidential debate Oct. 3.
Immediately after that debate, an EPIC-MRA poll showed just a 3-percentage point margin for Obama in Michigan.
From Friday through Monday, EPIC-MRA called 600 people who said they are either highly likely to vote or have already voted by absentee ballot. Those polled included about 20% of respondents who use only cell phones, in order to get a more representative sample. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
In recent days, Romney -- who said in 2008 that he would have limited government help for the automakers -- has suggested in radio and TV spots in Ohio that Obama's auto rescue did more for jobs in China than the U.S., despite the creation of thousands of jobs in Michigan and elsewhere. Democrats have criticized Romney for what they say is a rewrite of history.
The Free Press reported Wednesday that officials with GM and Chrysler also took issue with any suggestion that they have not been fully committed to creating jobs in the U.S.
Ohio, second to Michigan in jobs linked to auto manufacturing, has had more visits from Obama and Romney and their close surrogates than any state in the last 30 days.
The Obama campaign was soon expected to begin airing its first ad in Michigan in months, touting Obama's support for the auto industry. A Super PAC advocating for Romney -- Restore Our Future -- is also running a Michigan ad, though it does not mention the auto industry. On Wednesday, the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity announced a $1.5-million ad buy in the state.
Russ Schriefer, an adviser to Romney's campaign, said more states are in play than first thought, including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
"In any of these states, Gov. Romney has an excellent shot of winning," he said. "Can we win all of them? Probably not. But can we win some of them? I think so."
On Wednesday, Obama's senior strategist, David Axelrod, said the campaign was running its Michigan ad because it had money to jump into states where Romney is making a late push.
Half of those polled said the rescue of GM and Chrysler was a deciding factor in their support -- and of those, nearly two-thirds backed Obama. Among the slightly less than half who said it wasn't a deciding factor, Romney had a 56%-33% edge.
"I think that Michigan will come through for Obama, somewhere in the 51%, 52% range," Porn said. "That's not near what he ran in 2008 (when Obama won the state by 16 points), but I think that's where it will end up."
Three-quarters of Romney's supporters considered themselves enthusiastic -- about the same as the number for Obama.
Obama got higher marks in the poll on issues such as protecting Social Security and Medicare; making health care available to everyone, and handling the war in Afghanistan. Romney, who made a fortune in private equity and venture capital, slightly topped the president -- 46%-44% -- on handling the economy and creating jobs.
He also was seen by 48% as better equipped to deal with the federal deficit, compared with 40% for Obama.
"The way I look at it, the United States government is the largest business in the world, and it's currently not run very efficiently, and it hasn't been for years," said John Baker, 61, a remodeling contractor who lives outside Leonard in northern Oakland County. "Gov. Romney with his business experience, I think, is best equipped."
Among independent voters, a key bloc, Obama held a 42%-31% edge -- though nearly 30% said they would vote for a third-party candidate or remained undecided.
Obama was effectively tied with Romney among male voters, but he more than made up for that with a 51%-41% lead among women.
Barb Sosnowski, a 65-year-old retired emergency room admissions employee and 911 dispatcher in Macomb County, is among those supporting Obama. She's worried that Romney would rewrite rules for Medicare and health care.
"I'm afraid of what he'd do if he got in there," she said.
Romney grew up in Bloomfield Hills and is the son of a popular three-term Michigan governor and auto executive. He left Michigan decades ago, however, to live in Boston, which he still calls home.
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