President Barack Obama (L) and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greet each other during the Presidential Debate at the University of Denver on October 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. / Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images
LANSING, Mich (Detroit Free Press) - Republican candidate Mitt Romney's strong performance in his first debate with President Barack Obama helped him trim Obama's lead in Michigan to three percentage points, a poll released today to the Free Press shows.
Obama's 10 percentage point lead (47%-37%) in a poll conducted last month by EPIC-MRA of Lansing dropped to 3 points (48% to 45%), according to the poll of 600 likely voters conducted by EPIC-MRA of Lansing. The gap between Romney and Obama was within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Undecided voters shrank from the September survey's 16% to just 7%.
EPIC's September poll and others last month appeared to put Michigan out of reach for Romney, a native son.
"Romney has come back like gangbusters," said EPIC-MRA President Bernie Porn. "Whether or not it's long-lasting, only time will tell, but probably the remaining debates will be key."
Conducted in the three days following the Wednesday debate, the poll showed more than five times as many Michiganders interviewed named Romney, not Obama, as the debate's winner. Romney's numbers improved most dramatically among independent and undecided voters. In the debate, Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts and the son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney, used a rapid fire attack and kept a more deliberate Obama, the Democrat, on the defensive.
The results mirror other newly released national polls which show the race tightening both nationally and in critical swing states.
Of those polled in Michigan, 61% said they watched all or most of the debate, and 77% said they saw at least some of it.
Romney was declared the winner by 66%, compared to 12% who gave the edge to Obama and 8% who declared the debate - the first of three between Obama and Romney - a draw.
Even 45% of Democrats said Romney won the debate, compared to 24% who picked Obama.
"I don't think Obama was on his game - it just seemed like he didn't want to be there," said Daniel Fulkerson, 62, a retired autoworker who worked 34 years for General Motors in Lansing. He now lives in White Cloud in Newaygo County and said Obama still gets his vote.
Gene Brauninger, a retired quality assurance manager from Commerce Township, said he was considering voting for an independent or third-party presidential candidate but is likely to vote for Romney after watching the debate.
"I thought Obama fell on his face," while Romney "stayed on point," said Brauninger, 68.
"To be honest with you, I never thought Obama would look that bad or Romney would look that good."
Further evidence the debate was the key factor in moving Romney's numbers is the fact U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, extended her lead over her Republican challenger, former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Holland, since EPIC-MRA's September poll.
The new poll showed Stabenow leading Hoekstra 55% to 35%, with 10% undecided or refusing to say.
In September, Stabenow led Hoekstra 49%-38%, with 13% undecided.
Stabenow was on the air in Michigan with TV ads before the poll. Hoekstra's TV ads are just starting.
Porn said Obama can take comfort from the fact his support is still above the percentage of the electorate who identify themselves as Democrats.
Of those polled, 43% described themselves as Democrats and 38% as Republicans. That partisan breakdown is the same as it was for the September poll.
The remaining two presidential debates before the Nov. 6 election are Oct. 16 and Oct. 22. On Thursday, the vice-presidential candidates debate in Kentucky.
Kelsey Knight, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign in Michigan, said Romney demonstrated in the debate that he's a leader who can work across the aisle to solve problems and improve the economy.
"Michiganders saw a clear choice in Denver last week and the drastic change in polling numbers proves that they don't want the next four years to look like the last four," Knight said.
Matt McGrath, a spokesman for the Obama campaign in Michigan, downplayed the poll's significance.
"Polls go up and down, and in Michigan we are focused on building the strongest grassroots campaign ever seen in the state, improving economic security for the middle class, and telling the story of how the Romney/Ryan ticket will hurt middle-class Michiganders," McGrath said.
Paul Egan - Detroit Free Press