- Associated Press - Sunday, September 30, 2012

DES MOINES, Iowa — With a little more than five weeks to Election Day, President Obama is within reach of the 270 electoral votes needed to win a second term. Republican Mitt Romney’s path to victory is narrowing.

To overtake Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney would need to quickly gain the upper hand in nearly all of the nine states where he and Mr. Obama are competing the hardest.

Polls show the president with a steady lead in many of them as Mr. Romney looks to shift the dynamics of the race, starting with their first debate, Wednesday in Denver.

“We’d rather be us than them,” says Jennifer Psaki, an Obama spokeswoman.

But Mr. Romney’s political director, Rich Beeson, insists, “You still have an incumbent who’s going to have a hard time getting over 50 percent in a lot of these states.”

If the election were held today, an Associated Press analysis shows Mr. Obama would win at least 271 electoral votes, with likely victories in crucial Ohio and Iowa along with 19 other states and the District of Columbia. Mr. Romney would win 23 states for a total of 206.

To oust the Democratic incumbent, Mr. Romney would need to take up-for-grabs Florida, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Virginia, which would put him at 267 votes, and upend Mr. Obama in either Ohio or Iowa.

The AP analysis isn’t meant to be predictive. Rather, it is intended to provide a snapshot of a race that until recently has been stubbornly close in the small number of the most contested states.

It is based on a review of public and private polls, television advertising and numerous interviews with campaign and party officials as well as Republican and Democratic strategists in the competitive states and in Washington.

In the final weeks before the Nov. 6 vote, Mr. Obama is enjoying a burst of momentum and has benefited from growing optimism about the economy as well as a series of Mr. Romney stumbles. Most notably, a secret video surfaced recently showing the Republican nominee telling a group of donors that 47 percent of Americans consider themselves victims dependent on the government.

To be sure, much could change in the coming weeks, which will feature three presidential and one vice presidential debate. A host of unknowns, both foreign and domestic, could rock the campaign, knocking Mr. Obama off course and giving Mr. Romney a boost in the homestretch.

Barring that, Mr. Romney’s challenge is formidable.

Mr. Obama started the campaign with a slew of electoral-rich coastal states already in his win column. From the outset, Mr. Romney faced fewer paths to cobbling together the state-by-state victories needed to reach the magic number.

It’s grown even narrower in recent weeks, as Mr. Romney has seen his standing slip in polls in Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, and Iowa, with six. That forced him to abandon plans to try to challenge Mr. Obama on traditionally Democratic turf so he could redouble his efforts in Ohio and Iowa, as well as Colorado, Florida, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Nevada and Virginia.

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