Ah, it’s good to be in full general-campaign mode, isn’t it?  Instead of having to play three-dimensional chess with polling numbers, with the head-to-head figures having to be calculated through the prism of a contested primary on one side, we’re now entering into the clarity phase of polling.  Mitt Romney has just begun to unite Republicans behind him, while Barack Obama has had an uncontested primary season, so the advantage still goes to Obama in polling — and that’s what has to be worrying Team Obama with the Quinnipiac polls from three swing states:

Riding the voter perception that he is as good as or better than President Barack Obama at fixing the economy, Republican challenger Mitt Romney catches up with the president in Florida and Ohio, two critical swing states, while the president opens an 8-point lead in Pennsylvania, according to a Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll released today.

This compares to the results of a March 28 Swing State Poll by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University showing President Obama ahead of Gov. Romney 49 – 42 percent in Florida, 47 – 41 percent in Ohio and 45 – 42 percent in Pennsylvania. …

Matching Obama against Romney in each of these key states – no one has won the White House since 1960 without carrying at least two of them – shows:

  •  Florida: Romney with 44 percent to Obama’s 43 percent, too close to call;
  •  Ohio: Obama with 44 percent to Romney’s 42 percent, too close to call;
  •  Pennsylvania: Obama tops Romney 47 – 39 percent.

What is the one constant in each of these polls?  Obama the incumbent can’t get to 50% in any of these states.  In Florida and Ohio, Obama can’t even get to 45%.  Pennsylvania has a double-digit Democratic advantage in party registration and Obama can’t get to a majority.  Those are not re-elect numbers in any of these three states.

Losing Florida and Ohio would be a big problem for Obama.  Losing Pennsylvania would be a disaster.  Obama is still a long way from losing the state, but it’s exactly the kind of blue-collar, Rust Belt, working-class Catholic state that he will have problems holding.  Democrats who lose Pennsylvania in presidential elections are called authors by January, and the Democrats know this well.  They will have to shift considerable amounts of time and money to protect Obama in the Keystone State that could have gone elsewhere … like, say, Florida and Ohio, which are critical states for Republicans.  And if Obama is having these kinds of problems in Pennsylvania, he’ll lose Indiana and could possibly lose Wisconsin and Virginia as well.

National Journal notes that the rise in Romney’s strength comes from a perception of economic stagnation that’s not likely to change in the next few months:

Romney’s rise in two of the three critical states is fueled by voters’ perceptions of the economy. Voters in Florida and Ohio think the former Massachusetts governor would do a better job with the economy, while Pennsylvania voters are split evenly on the question. And only a slight majority of voters in each state thinks the economy is beginning to recover.

The demographic composition is another problem.  The D/R/I in Florida is 31/28/37, in Ohio 34/26/34, and in Pennsylvania 36/29/30.  Only Pennsylvania’s looks remotely predictive.  The CNN exit polls in 2008 — a banner year for Obama — put Florida at 37/34/29, Ohio at 39/31/30, and Pennsylvania at 44/37/18.  In 2010, Florida was even-up at 36/36/28, while Ohio was 36/37/28 and Pennsylvania at 40/37/23.  Republicans are consistently underweighted in these Q-polls.  Obama is probably in even more trouble than the numbers above indicate.