(Detroit Free Press) - President Barack Obama, fresh off a Democratic National Convention in which the turnaround of Michigan's signature auto industry played a central role, heads into the final 2 months of the campaign with the state's voters solidly behind him.
A poll done by EPIC-MRA of Lansing for the Free Press, WXYZ-TV and other media partners showed Obama with a commanding 10-point lead over Michigan-born-and-raised Mitt Romney, whose chances in the state may have been seriously hurt by last week's Democratic convention in Charlotte.
Democrats made the 2009 rescue of General Motors and Chrysler - and the jobs it saved nationwide - a central theme of the convention, with autoworkers, UAW President Bob King and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm among the speakers.
"When the whole theme for the Democrats is Osama bin Laden is dead and GM is alive ... that's got to help in Michigan and Ohio and a couple other states as well," said EPIC-MRA pollster Bernie Porn.
In EPIC-MRA's last statewide poll, an automated survey taken Aug. 28 before Ann Romney spoke at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, laying out a case for her husband Mitt to be elected, Obama held a slim 49%-46% lead over Romney. In the new poll, conducted from Saturday through Tuesday, Obama led Romney 47% -37%.
EPIC-MRA surveyed 600 likely November voters for the poll which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Obama leads among the key bloc of independent voters 36% to 27%, with 37% undecided - perhaps giving Romney room to improve. But in past EPIC-MRA polls, Romney led among independents, suggesting they may be having second thoughts.
Obama also led among both men (42%-40%) and women (52%-36%) and there was also sharp break in voter motivation: While 76% of the president's supporters said they were voting for him as opposed to 21% who said they were voting against Romney, only 54% of Romney's supporters were voting specifically for him, while 43% who were voting against Obama.
Obama led in all three metro Detroit counties including Macomb (52%-43%), Oakland (53%-33%) and Wayne (56%-30%). Romney would almost certainly need a stronger showing in both Oakland and Macomb to win Michigan.
While 29% of Obama's supporters credited him for the job he's done on the economy as a major reason for their support, 51% of Romney's supporters said his plan for the economy was driving their support for him.
It wasn't enough for Lauri Schippert, 52, of Roseville, who lost her job as an administrative assistant last December when her employer closed the business. She still believes Obama provides a better plan for the future.
"Obama is the far better choice," she said "He's moving the country in the right direction and the economy has improved. My job search has gotten better in the last couple of months. I've had some interviews and I'm getting some good bites."
The poll results may help explain why conservative groups supporting Romney - including Americans for Prosperity and American Crossroads - moved to other swing states with a TV advertising campaign while Michigan was conspicuously absent from the list.
"The dynamics of the race are constantly changing in all of the battleground states," American Crossroads spokesman Nate Hodson said earlier this week. "Right now, that led us to dedicate resources elsewhere, but that doesn't eliminate Michigan."
Hodson wouldn't comment on how the group came to its conclusion after it and other anti-Obama groups spent upward of $10-million on TV advertising in Michigan so far this year.
Michael Traugott, with the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan, said it almost certain comes down to what private polls are showing the Republican-leaning groups and where Romney has the best chance of competing.
"That's really the issue," he said. "Would the money do better in other states than it would in Michigan."
The new poll appears to bear that out, giving Obama a larger lead on Romney that he has nationally - which recent polls have put at anywhere from 1% to 7% - and better off than he was in 2008 in Michigan at this stage of the race, when he led Republican nominee John McCain with a margin in the low-to-mid single digits.
Going forward, Michigan could be dropped from the list of battleground states expected to be hotly contested. Recent polls show the closest matchups in: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. Some pundits had already moved Michigan into their "lean Democrat" or "lean Obama" column.
"We don't consider Michigan one of those (swing) states," said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a Washington, D.C-based political handicapping publication.
That's not to say, however, that it's over for Romney in Michigan. For one, he can't afford to narrow his options for winning the Electoral College map - and with 16 electoral votes, Michigan remains one of the bigger players.
For another, Romney's ties to Michigan mean it's nearly impossible - and possibly foolhardy - for his campaign to even consider a publicized pullout from the state as executed four years ago this October by John McCain's presidential campaign, a move that even his running mate, then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, questioned.
Romney's late father George was a popular three-term governor of Michigan and Mitt Romney still has close familial ties in the state. His brother Scott lives in Bloomfield Hills, where he and Mitt were raised. Any sign that the campaign were abandoning Michigan would be seized by Democrats as a key loss for Romney - especially sicnce he has little chance of winning Massachusetts, where he served as governor and still lives.
Katie Packer Gage, Romney's deputy campaign manager and a Michigan native born in Detroit and raised there and in Southfield, told the Free Press earlier this week - before the new poll was released - that the campaign has no intention of abandoning the state.
"There are a whole lot of states that present a lot of opportunities for us and Michigan is one of those states," she said, noting that the campaign recently opened its 22nd grassroots organizing center in the state, compared to 11 for Obama's campaign.
Romney campaign officials have said all week that they expected Obama to get a bounce in the polls from the Democratic convention but that they expect that to fade as well.
A Republican hasn't won Michigan's electoral college votes since George H.W. Bush in 1988. In 2008, Obama beat McCain by a landslide 16 percentage points, and few would have expected such a result this year.
But Obama clearly has advantages in Michigan, the largest being his administration's pumping billions of dollars into GM and Chrysler, which have since returned to profitability. The U.S. Treasury still owns about one-third of GM - and the most recent figures show the government could lose $25-billion on the bailout.
Democrats have argued that price is worth the one million jobs they say the auto rescue saved nationwide.
Romney argued against any bailout when it first came up in late 2008 and has maintained that government wasted money while it waited to run the companies through a managed bankruptcy and delivered deals that helped union workers at the expense of bondholders and dealers.
"I really didn't like the way Romney was talking about General Motors," said Jeff Pirlot, 50, of Grosse Ile, who is leaning toward voting for Obama. "If you're from Michigan, you should have supported that."
Romney's best chance at making Michigan competitive again - especially since neither he nor his independent supporters are running TV ads in the state - may be the three fall presidential debates, the first set for Oct. 3 in Denver.
For their part, Obama's campaign avoided spending precious campaign dollars on TV advertising in Michigan, even as Crossroads and others were doing so this spring and summer. The president himself hasn't visited Detroit for months, leaving that to Vice President Joe Biden and others.
Lou Thierwechter, 73, of Allegan, is sticking by Romney, saying his fiscal conservativism is what the country needs right now.
"Romney understands how money is generated so that it can be spent properly," said Thierwechter, a former Allegan County commissioner. "In order to spend it, you have to first create it and I think Mr. Romney is much better at it than Mr. Obama."
Contact TODD SPANGLER at 703-854-8947 or at firstname.lastname@example.org