President Barack Obama made another campaign trip to Ohio on Wednesday, bolstered by a new poll that shows him with the lead in the Buckeye State and two other election battlegrounds.
Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's campaign launched a potentially risky ad challenging the Obama administration's auto industry bailout, which is credited with saving General Motors and Chrysler.
With just over three months until the November election, the race has become a contentious struggle to convince voters that the other guy will take the country in the wrong direction.
The Quinnipiac University/CBS News/New York Times poll released Wednesday showed Obama leading Romney in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, all of which are among the eight or so battleground states vital to either candidate's chances for winning.
According to the survey, Obama holds a 50%-44% lead in Ohio and a 51%-45% lead in Florida, which are considered toss-ups in November. The president is ahead 53%-42% in Pennsylvania, which is rated "leans Obama" on the CNN Electoral Map.
"If today were November 6, President Barack Obama would sweep the key swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania and -- if history is any guide -- into a second term in the Oval Office," wrote Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, in a statement accompanying the survey's release.
In a key finding that signaled possible trouble for Romney, the candidates were statistically even in all three states on the question of who would better handle the economy.
Romney's main campaign theme is that the former Massachusetts governor is more experienced and better able to bring economic growth than Obama, and his attacks on the president's economic policies have been relentless.
Despite those attacks and unemployment above 8%, Obama is neck-and-neck with Romney on the issue cited by voters as the most important to them.
Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University, said before Wednesday's poll came out that the Romney campaign is "betting on economic dissatisfaction" to defeat Obama.
"If that were true, Obama's negatives would be much worse," Schiller said. "There's obviously something else driving people's support other than the economy."
Obama's visit to Ohio is his ninth this year, showing the importance his campaign places on the state he won in 2008 over Republican candidate Sen. John McCain.
An Obama campaign official told reporters Wednesday the president will speak in Ohio about a report by researchers at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center that shows Romney's tax plan would provide large tax cuts to the very wealthy while increasing the tax burden on the lower and middle classes.
Romney calls for 20% cuts to today's rates as well as eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, and limiting current deductions, exemptions and credits available to top-level income earners.
However, Romney has yet to say which specific tax breaks he plans to eliminate, and the Tax Policy Center report indicated his plan would force the tax burden to shift toward lower and middle-class Americans.
"A revenue-neutral individual income tax change that incorporates the features Governor Romney has proposed ... would provide large tax cuts to high-income households, and increase the tax burdens on middle- and/or lower-income taxpayers," the report concluded.
The Romney campaign did not immediately return a request for comment on the report.
Earlier Wednesday, the Romney campaign released a new television ad that criticized Obama for the auto bailout. Titled "Dream," the spot features Al Zarzour, a car dealership owner from Lyndhurst, Ohio, saying that under the bailout measure, "the dream ... that we worked so hard for was gone."
"I received a letter from General Motors. They were suspending my credit line. We had 30-some employees that were out of work," Zarzour says in the spot.
Romney has argued the bailout was not the best solution to right the then-struggling auto industry, instead advocating a "managed bankruptcy" process that he said is what ultimately happened.
Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the Obama campaign, told reporters that the Romney ad is surprising, saying that the president's actions on the auto industry saved 2,200 dealership jobs in Ohio alone.
Obama's campaign has also aired advertisements focused on the auto industry bailout, including one in which an autoworker explains how the bailout helped him.
Another new Romney ad Wednesday hammered Obama over unemployment and other economic problems, saying: "Americans need a change. We need a new president."
Obama's campaign responded to the ad by citing Romney's opposition to the auto industry bailout.
"Let's get this straight -- the very person who argued for the U.S. auto industry to go bankrupt, something that would have caused more than a million jobs lost and utter economic devastation in the Midwest, is now trying to attack the president on how it was handled?"