A flurry of polls showing widening leads for President Barack Obama Wednesday heaped pressure on Mitt Romney to use their first head-to-head debate next week to launch a major comeback bid, AFP reports.
Fresh surveys showed Obama cementing his advantage in the key state battlegrounds that will decide the US election on November 6, and putting clear distance between himself and his Republican challenger nationwide.
Obama aides denied Republican claims they were celebrating too early but spokeswoman Jen Psaki did say that Romney's path to the White House appeared to be "narrowing."
"We'd rather be us than them," she said.
Romney's fading numbers appeared to reflect damage from the release last week of a secretly filmed video in which he said 47 percent of Americans would vote for Obama because they were dependent on government and paid no taxes.
The former Massachusetts governor softened his tone Wednesday, saying that his "heart aches" for people struggling to find work and the government "has a role" in taking care of people who are hurting.
But he added: "we're going to insist these people have the opportunity for work if they can -- if they're able bodied -- because we're not going to create a society of dependence on government."
Both men dueled for votes of blue-collar workers in the key swing state of Ohio Wednesday, with Romney appearing with native son and golf legend Jack Nicklaus, and Obama mocking his foe's vow to stand up to Beijing.
"He's been talking tough on China," Obama said at his own two Ohio events, accusing his challenger of investing some of his personal wealth in firms that outsource jobs to China.
"When you hear this newfound outrage, when you see these ads he's running promising to get tough on China, it feels a lot like that fox saying, 'You know, we need more secure chicken coops.'"
"I mean, it's just not credible."
Romney lambasted Obama for failing to prevent the loss of 582,000 manufacturing jobs in the past four years and placed much of the blame for the industry's decline on "competition from overseas, which is often unfair."
"From day one I will label China as a currency manipulator," Romney told supporters at a spring wire plant in suburban Cleveland, in the second of this three rallies in Ohio Wednesday.
"They must not steal jobs."
Romney also insisted "we're going to win Ohio," despite a Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll Wednesday showing him down 10 points in a state no Republican has ever lost and still won the White House.
A Washington Post poll put Romney's deficit in the state at eight points, and his position in Ohio appears especially alarming for Republicans as early voting begins in the state next week.
Obama may be helped by the fact that the unemployment rate in Ohio, while still high at 7.2 percent in August, is nearly a point below the current national figure of 8.1 percent.
The state is also an epicenter of the auto industry and related manufacturing, which profited from a bailout of the sector engineered by Obama in 2009.
The Quinnipiac poll also showed Romney down by nine percent in the biggest battleground state Florida, completing a scenario that would deny the Republican a credible route to the White House.
Obama also led a Gallup daily tracking poll by six percent and is up in the top nine battleground states, according to averages of recent polling the RealClearPolitics website.
Neither campaign expects Obama to win Ohio and Florida by such wide margins in November. But the new polling data added to growing signs that Romney would have to pull off a stunning comeback to win the White House.
His best chance to change the narrative may be in the first of three presidential debates, in Denver, Colorado, on October 3.
"Governor Mitt Romney had a bad week in the media and it shows in these key swing states," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.
Brown said the furor over the 47 percent remark "almost certainly is a major factor" in Obama's leads.
The Romney campaign said Tuesday that it was comfortable with the state of the race, as conservatives question whether polling firms are over-sampling Democratic voters and getting skewed results.
"At the end of the day, Ohio is going to come down to the wire," Romney's political director Rich Beeson said Tuesday.
There was a brief moment of drama on Air Force One earlier, when the commander of the iconic blue-and-white 747 aborted a landing due to bad weather on final approach to Toledo.
But the presidential jet made it down safely on a second attempt.