WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has pulled into a virtual tie with President Barack Obama in the crucial swing states of Ohio and Florida, but Obama retains a solid lead in Pennsylvania, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday.
Romney gained ground on Obama over the last month in Ohio and Florida, fiercely contested battleground states that will be critical to deciding the winner of the November 6 presidential election.
The new poll found Romney with 44 percent to Obama's 43 percent in Florida, where Obama led by 7 percentage points in late March. In Ohio, where Obama led by 6 points in late March, Obama had 44 percent to Romney's 42 percent. Both leads were well within the poll's 2.9 percent margin of error.
Obama slightly expanded his lead in Pennsylvania, registering 47 percent to Romney's 39 percent. He led by 3 points in March in Pennsylvania, which has trended toward Democrats in recent presidential elections.
Pollster Peter Brown attributed Romney's improved showing in Ohio and Florida to his triumph in the Republican nominating race and to continued public worries about the pace of the economic recovery.
"First, since he is now the de facto nominee, Romney is no longer being attacked by his fellow Republicans, who are closing ranks behind him," Brown said. "Second, voter optimism about the economy has leveled off, reflecting economic statistics over the past month and the public reaction to them."
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, has touted his experience as the head of a private equity firm as evidence that he could do the best job healing the economy.
"What appears to be keeping Romney in the ball game, at least in Florida and Ohio, is the perception he can better fix the economy," Brown said.
Most national polls show a tight race between Romney and Obama in the state-by-state battle for the 270 electoral votes needed to capture the White House. Ohio, with 18 electoral votes, and Florida, with 29, have helped decide close recent presidential elections.
The poll of 1,169 voters in Florida, 1,130 voters in Ohio and 1,168 voters in Pennsylvania was conducted by telephone land and cell lines from April 25 to May 1.
(Writing by John Whitesides; editing by Mohammad Zargham)