The race in Michigan looks slightly worse for Barack Obama after two recent polls cited by the Detroit News this morning.  In the first, a poll by Mitchell Research and Communications, Romney has a slight lead over Obama, 45/44.  That’s a slight change from last month’s poll by MRC, which showed Obama edging Romney:

A survey by Mitchell Research & Communications showed the race is a statistical dead heat between President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican challenger Mitt Romney, with Romney leading, 45 percent to Obama’s 44 percent. …

Also last month, the Mitchell survey showed Obama in front, 47 percent to 46 percent.

“Mitt Romney’s home state continues to look as though it is going to be a battleground state this year,” said Steve Mitchell of Mitchell Research & Communications.

The results are consistent with other polls showing Romney closing the gap since becoming the presumptive GOP candidate. Obama once had a commanding lead in Michigan, as much as double figures in one May poll.

Not any longer.  The RCP average for polls in Michigan over the last six weeks shows an average gap of just 1.7 points — and Obama at 45.5%.  That’s very low for an incumbent Democratic President, especially one in a union-heavy state like Michigan.  In 2012, Obama’s average in Michigan state polls has never been higher than 51 points, and hasn’t been above the “magic” 50% level needed for incumbents since May 11th — more than two months ago.

The Mitchell poll doesn’t have the crosstabs or sample data, so it’s impossible to analyze further — but the results don’t look like an outlier, especially when looking at the trend from RCP.  Rasmussen’s latest Michigan poll released yesterday gives Obama better news — but also shows Romney with momentum:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Michigan Voters shows Obama with 48% support to Romney’s 42%. Five percent (5%) favor some other candidate in the race, and four percent (4%) are undecided. …

As is generally the case nationally, Obama leads among female voters and younger voters in Michigan. Romney is ahead among male voters and those who are older.

The Republican has a 44% to 36% lead among voters in the state who are not affiliated with either of the major parties. Romney is well ahead among voters who are married, while Obama earns overwhelming support from those who are not married.

This does have the sample data, with a D/R/I of 37/33/30 in likely voters.  In 2008, a big Democratic wave election, the exit polls showed a D+12, 41/29/29, and no exit polls exist for the 2010 midterms in Michigan.  A D+4 may be a little optimistic — or perhaps not; voters in Michigan elected a Republican governor in 2010, and the state has more Republicans (9) than Democrats (6) in their House delegation.

Nevertheless, in 2008, Obama won Michigan by 17 points and didn’t have to spend much effort or resources in keeping the state solidly blue.  That’s not going to be the case this year, and even his lead in this poll looks shaky at best.  He’s no longer getting 50% of the vote, as he was in Rasmussen’s June poll, and the gap has narrowed to six points, closer to the MoE.

The keys here are presidential approval, economic outlook, and the perception of each candidate in delivering change.  Obama does reasonably well on the first, with a 53/46 approval rating — weak for a Democratic state, but positive.  He only gets a 48/50 from independents, though, and a poor showing of 42/58 among seniors.  Only 5% think the current economy is good (no one thinks it’s “excellent”), while 92% believe it to be fair or poor — with almost a majority of 48% saying it’s poor.  Forty-three percent think the economy is getting worse, while only 29% believe it’s improving.   Voters are closely split as to whether Romney would improve things (35% say yes, 37% say he’d make it worse), but the split is more significant on Obama (33/41).  With independents, the split is far more significant on Obama (19/48), while Romney improves slightly to 33/31.

If independents play a larger role in this election, and the economy continues to decline, Obama could wind up losing Michigan — and that would be a death knell to his re-election hopes.  Regardless, it’s now clear that Obama will have to campaign hard in Michigan just to play defense, and that will mean shifting resources from states like Ohio and Virginia that Republicans have to win back this year to beat him.